Each week, I’ll provide some quick analysis of the race through a post called the Top Five — five notable storylines from the just-completed race. First up: The Clash at Daytona.
1. The two best plate racers in the event crashed on the last lap
When the white flag flew, it looked like Denny Hamlin — who swept last year’s Clash and Daytona 500 — would edge Brad Keselowski for the win, barring something crazy happening.
Well, something crazy happened.
Keselowski got a huge run (which doesn’t happen that often with this restrictor plate aero package) and Hamlin went down to defend, but it was too late. Keselowski was already there, and the cars made contact.
Hamlin told MRN his attempted block was ill-timed, and Keselowski seemed relatively cool about the incident.
“Well, it is the Clash and not the 500,” he said on pit road.
But then Keselowski’s jaw clenched and the muscles in his face tightened.
“I guarantee he knows — and everyone else who was watching today — that I’m going to make that move again,” Keselowski said. “And you better move out or you’ll end up wrecked.”
A few moments later, he said it again: “I know all the other drivers are back watching it today, and they know not to make that block on me again.”
Your move, everyone else.
2. Something is up with Hendrick cars in Turn 4 at Daytona
OK, what’s going on here? Jimmie Johnson twice spun in Turn 4, which continued a pattern of Hendrick Motorsports cars having trouble in that turn over the past year (Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott spun out of Turn 4 last year).
After coming out of the care center, Johnson said he didn’t know — and, perhaps more telling, that the team had been so unconcerned about it that no one had discussed it prior to the race.
They certainly will be talking about it now. Johnson said he noticed Elliott looked loose in that turn as well.
“The sun certainly sits on that edge of the track a little harder than anywhere else,” Johnson said. “We’ll take some notes and learn from those mistakes and applied that to the 500.”
3. Alex Bowman is a beast
With each opportunity he gets — and there aren’t that many on his schedule for 2017 — Bowman shows he deserves a chance to run a full Cup season in a good car.
No one wanted to help him during the Clash, and the other drivers treated him like a leper at times. At one point, it looked like Joey Logano might go with him — and then Logano went with the Joe Gibbs Racing cars again and Bowman fell all the way to the back of the field.
Bowman won the pole and almost won the race at Phoenix last year, then basically willed himself to a podium finish in the Clash. This guy will drive a great car some day and, at 23, he has time on his side.
4. Joey Logano is an underrated plate racer
Let’s not get too carried away here, because Logano wasn’t going to win the race until the leaders hit each other on the last lap.
But Logano has won three plate races in the last two seasons (2015 Daytona 500 and the Talladega fall race twice in a row), and now adds the Clash to his collection. When is he going to start getting mentioned alongside Keselowski, Hamlin and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the best of the best on plate tracks? (I’m asking myself that question, by the way.)
Combined with Keselowski the puppet master, you’d better believe the Team Penske cars will bring a large threat to the JGR contingent next week.
5. Danica Patrick gets a good result
I’ll have to go back and watch the replay to see how Patrick ended up with a fourth-place finish, but she’ll certainly take any positive momentum she can get these days.
Her performance on the track has been below average compared to her teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing for a couple years now, and she hasn’t seemed like the restrictor-plate threat she was when she first emerged in the series.
Plus, there’s been that whole Nature’s Bakery lawsuit and the scramble to find a replacement sponsor just a month before the season.
So while a fourth doesn’t count for the official records, it’s a boost of momentum.