The Top Five: Breaking down the Daytona 500

Five thoughts after Sunday’s 60th running of the Daytona 500…

1. That’s racing

I’m sort of baffled by the outrage over Austin Dillon driving through Aric Almirola — after Almirola admitted he saw Dillon coming and threw a last-ditch block. There’s no sound reason behind the anger here, other than fans can’t stand Dillon and his perceived silver spoon background — while Almirola would have been a likable winner and feel-good story after last year’s broken back and transition to Stewart-Haas Racing.

I get that Dillon irritates fans (he doesn’t care, by the way; Dillon believes in the “as long as they’re making noise” philosophy), but geez. Seriously, folks? Take the emotion out of it for a second.

Dillon had a huge shot of momentum from a Bubba Wallace push when the Almirola block happened, and it was on the last lap of the freaking Daytona 500. So what was Dillon supposed to do, let off the gas and cut Almirola a break?

“I guess I could have lifted and gave it to him, and not had this Daytona 500 ring that I’m wearing,” Dillon said.

But even if he did lift, Dillon probably would have gotten turned by Wallace behind him.

After all, that’s what seemed to happen when Ryan Blaney blocked Chase Elliott in the first Big One (Elliott lost momentum, got loose and spun off Brad Keselowski, starting a pileup). And when Denny Hamlin blocked Kurt Busch in the last Big One, Busch lost his momentum and got turned by the air off Blaney’s nose.

As we saw throughout Speedweeks, superspeedway racing has evolved into a risky, ballsy game of chicken when it comes to blocking. Almirola had no choice but to throw that block — in hopes Dillon would somehow blink — and Dillon had no choice but to drive through him.

Unless he wanted to lose, of course.

“I had such a run,” Dillon said, “and I had to use it.”

2. A star is born

NASCAR got stuck in some political debates last year, which prompted outsiders to once again bring up stereotypes about the sport’s fans.

But the majority of race fans aren’t racist. How do I know? Because Bubba Wallace is quickly becoming one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR.

Fans at Daytona gave Wallace a loud cheer before the 500, and his high profile in the media this week (including a feature on ESPN, a six-part docu-series on Facebook and then some air time in front of the largest audience NASCAR has all year) allowed fans to take a closer look at whether they like him or not.

It certainly seems like they do. And it has everything to do with his personality, which is refreshing, energetic, fun, raw and real.

I mean, what other driver shows emotions like this?

If Wallace can do anything in the 43 car and is even halfway competitive, it will be massive for NASCAR. His profile only grow if that’s the case.

But Richard Petty Motorsports has a lot of work to do judging by last year’s results, and if Wallace doesn’t run in the top 10, he risks becoming another Clint Bowyer.

Fun guy, hilarious, great personality, people love him, but…

At the tweetup on Sunday, fans emphasized they seek the perfect combination of personality and results. A driver needs both to truly be a superstar.

Those who deliver in both ways are the types of drivers NASCAR needs to succeed. Wallace certainly has the personality; now we’ll see whether he can produce on the track.

3. For Blaney, wait til next year

This really seemed to be the Ryan Blaney 500, especially after so many other contenders wrecked out. It looked like Blaney had the strongest car and could do anything with it. He led 118 laps in playing the typical Keselowski role, a dominating performance on a day when no one else led more than 22 laps.

Blaney was leading a single-file line with 10 laps to go when William Byron spun in his damaged car, which brought out a caution that ultimately cost him the race after the ensuing restart.

“That stunk,” Blaney said of the caution. “That grouped everyone back together. I tried to block as best I could, but it’s just so hard when they’re coming so much faster than you.”

Still, a green-flag finish wouldn’t have guaranteed a Blaney win. He had the best car of those remaining, though that doesn’t mean everyone would have stayed in line. But he’ll always wonder.

“It definitely was going to get tough there, and it was starting to brew up to where people were going to start to go,” he said. “With five to go, it was probably crunch time — and we were five laps away from that.

“But I thought we could control the lead pretty good, and it just didn’t play out that way.”

Ryan Blaney collects himself after climbing from his car following a seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500. (Photo: Jeff Gluck)


4. Logic doesn’t prevail

I don’t know if this will go down as one of the best Daytona 500s ever, but it was certainly one of the most entertaining.

Honestly, it shouldn’t have been.

With drivers knowing their cars were less stable than in previous years thanks to the new rules package, it seemed running single-file (like in the Clash) would be the smart way to go.

It certainly would have been very boring, but logic dictates that’s what the drivers should have done in order to still be racing at the finish.

Instead, the drivers got all crazy over the end of Stage 1 and took out a bunch of great cars. Then more wild moves finally bit them just after the halfway point.

“It looked like everybody thought that was the finish of the Daytona 500 and it was really only lap 59 coming to 60,” Jimmie Johnson said of the first incident. “… I’m not sure everybody was thinking big picture and really using their head through that.”

I’m sure they weren’t. But I can’t really figure out why. Drivers had privately predicted a single-file race, perhaps even with several groups of six-to-12 car lines spread across the track. Then they would all go hard for the win at the end.

Instead, it seemed like the opposite happened in the first two stages. It was weird. Super entertaining, but weird.

Perhaps the start of a new season left everyone too antsy to use the patience required to make it to the finish, or maybe racers just can’t help themselves from racing hard — even when it’s not necessary at the time.

5. Underdogs shine

Speaking of those who patiently bided their time and made it to the finish, there were some surprise names who had solid results after others wrecked out.

Chris Buescher previously had only one top-10 finish at a restrictor-plate track in nine starts, but he finished fifth on Sunday.

Michael McDowell finished ninth to record his sixth career top-10 finish — five of which have come at Daytona.

Justin Marks had a surprising run in his first career Cup race at Daytona and finished 12th despite being one lap down.

Also, David Gilliland made his first Cup Series start since 2016 — and recorded a 14th-place finish, his first top-15 since the 2015 Daytona 500.

And finally, despite all the drama and questions about whether it could even get the car on the track, BK Racing got a 20th-place finish with Gray Gaulding. Not a bad day for a team that just filed for bankruptcy protection.

34 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Daytona 500”

  1. Does no one watch the replay anymore? —

    Wallace gave Dillon a push,
    Almirola throws the block,
    Dillon hits Almirola’s left rear Almirola maintains control and it becomes a bump,
    Almirola increases lead but loses aero push from behind,
    Dillon sucks up to Almirola and hooks Almirola’s right rear, turning him into the wall.

    — Get it? Dillon did not have a push when he hooked Almirola.

    1. I’m with discipulus. It wasn’t the block that turned him it was almost a PIT maneuver as seen in cops.
      That said, it is the last lap of the 500, a classier driver wouldn’t have done it, (mark Martin for example). But hey that’s why there’s hero’s and villains. It was a crazy and frustrating race to watch.

  2. Take the emotion out of it? Ok Jeff if you say so. I had pledged $5 which I know isn’t very much but I didn’t like reading your articles for free. But since I need to take the emotion out of it and just be numb to whatever’s happening I’m just gonna put my $5 somewhere else. Good day sir.

    1. Jeff, hopefully you read this. I am going to pick up this Branon’s pledge and double it to $10 a month. A large majority of us want you to speak your mind and give your honest take on what you are seeing. Don’t change.

      Screw this guy.

  3. Great points, Jeff. I was certainly prepared for the “single-file” running, but was surprised at the chances taken very early in the race. And Bubba… wow. That is powerful, raw emotion. IMO, it seems as though there is a breath of fresh air in the Cup series this year and a lot of that is due to the young, energetic drivers coming into the top series. It will be interesting to see how it plays out the remainder of the season.

  4. I agree 100% with you. People just don’t like AD. It’s the Daytona 500, for Pete’s sake!! You take out grandma for a win, with zero hesitation. And no, I’m not an AD fan.

  5. I thought the 3 was “just trying to rattle his cage.” Oops, that was a different driver of the 3. Good stuff as usual Jeff.

    1. There was a time we condoned the second place car turning the leader on the last lap ON SHORT TRACKS, because the speeds were a lot slower. Are we to now condone putting the leader into the wall at over 200mph on Super-speedways? I hope not.

  6. Until the Tweet Up at Talladega when Austin was the guest, I was probably one of those people who didn’t care for him. But after meeting him and seeing how he interacts with fans, I have great respect for Austin. Happy for him and for Bubba.

  7. “o what was Dillon supposed to do, let off the gas and cut Almirola a break?”

    Most of the IC community this so. I’m as baffled as you. When this situation happened anywhere else during Speedweeks in the pack, it was always a racing incident or a dumb move at most.

  8. The drivers are all so desperate for the stage points that they are hell bent on getting them and apparently at any cost. I hope they think twice next week.

    If 1/2 the field isn’t wiped out, Dillon is a non factor. I was kind of OK with his win, but he comes out with this some kid gave me a penny story. This rubbed me wrong. It’s like he wants to take Dale’s story and make it his. Ugh!

    I wish nothing but success for Bubba. I think he’s the shot in the arm that the top tier of NASCAR has needed for a few years. However, I just wish they would just consider him a driver, and not an African American driver. He doesn’t need to be constantly reminded of it. Why put all that added pressure on him to perform well

    Great insights Jeff! I always enjoy your writing!

  9. Well…I think a long time ago we all agreed to disagree at times and still stay supportive of Jeff. I hope everyone agrees this is still true and won’t stop their Patreon support just because they don’t agree with a viewpoint Jeff makes. Its his opinion which he’s allowed to have. Sheesh some people are way too sensitive!

  10. I don’t blame the Dillon boys for doing what they do, but it’s hard to watch.

    Richard Childress built a empire selling the “we are good old boys who work hard and earn it” image. After Dale died he said “I will never run the styilized 3.”

    Fast forward a decade and we are forced to endure the rank nepotism of a couple of guys who seem to have average abilities as drivers.

    Paul Menard is in this same category but conducts himself with the right amount of grace as to not draw too much grief from the masses.

    Richard Childress and Dale built legions of fans who related to a couple guys who seemed to be a lot like they were. Austin can wreck people like Dale, he can drive the black 3, he can even win the Daytona 500, but how ironic the only thing he can’t have is the thing that made his career possible in the first place.

    He says he doesn’t care. Neither do we.

  11. I think it was a great Daytona 500! The drivers threw caution to the wind early and I loved it. Young drivers shined and I loved it. The finish was intense and I loved it.

    I think most drivers would have done the same Dillon did, so I’m fine with it. The very positive thing about this controversy is that we’ll discuss about it endlessly, but we’ll finally discuss about racing. And guess what? I love it!

  12. I do not care about the Dillon/Almirola subject. I really feel sad for Ryan Blaney not winning the race. Just this.

  13. Jeff, I love you to death man and a disagreement in opinions sure isn’t going to sway my pledge toward your coverage.

    That said, I feel like you’re entirely wrong on point one here. Putting dislike for Austin aside, you’re still looking at a finish where a driver had the opportunity to crack the throttle without disrupting his line. Instead, he locks onto the 10’s bumper, moves around on it, and ultimately hooks the 10 into the wall.

    That’s bad in his own right, but he didn’t seem apologetic about it. You say that’s showing emotion, I say that’s smug and cowardly. I’m not against a bump or a shove or even a spin but not at these speeds. Not knowing the history and danger of this sport.

    Even worse, to see a man of Steve O’ Donnell’s position in the hierarchy congratulating Austin on making that move is further disappointing. Any other self-respecting sanctioning body would have penalized Austin for aggressive driving. Did Almirola throw the block? Absolutely. Does that give Austin the right to dump him? Absolutely not. It wasn’t like Austin had the spot and Almirola turned himself on Austin’s bumper. Then we have a different story here.

    I’m a huge Landon Cassill fan, and if he makes that same move I’m the first to chastise my driver for it. As much as I want to see him win, that’s not how I want to see it done. It was a cheap move, it doesn’t help Austin’s personality/reputation, and it was a very disappointing ending to what was a solid Daytona 500.

  14. Gluck ought to be a criminal defense lawyer with rationalizations like the ones he wrote for the 3’s intentional dumping of the should-have-won Ford.

    FORD GOT ROBBED! Plain and simple. Too bad somebody at Ford wasn’t strategic enough to immediately cause a backmarker caution after Almirola took the white flag (the 24’s spin-for-Chevy-win reset started the whole cautions-breed-cautions mess — Chevy at least understands the big picture, which the Ford teams seemingly never do).

    Also too bad that Almirola’s car was too damaged (and/or Almirola apparently too much of a wimp) to demolish the 3 after the race (or at least go full “Cale Yarborough” on Dumpin’ Dillon during the “celebration.”

    A shameful and disgusting end to an otherwise decent 500.

  15. Hopefully Ford and Amirola will issue the subtle-yet-devastating payback on the 3 at just the right time to knock Dumpin’ Dillon out of a chance at Homestead. After all, it’s only “racin'” . . . Right Jeff?

  16. Used to be that blocking was frowned upon in NASCAR and a driver throwing blocks was ‘asking for it.’ Pretty much still that way at the local short track. I’m not a big AD fan or EA fan, but the way I see it is if a driver is going to throw a block coming to the flag at any race, he should be expecting a hard bump. Yeah, AD turned left and spun EA, but it’s hard to argue that it was a dirty move. No dirtier that throwing an aggressive block.

    1. You have the facts wrong. Almirola DID absorb the bump in the left rear when he blocked! Dillon turned RIGHT delivering second contact hooking Almirola into the wall at 200mph.

  17. The problem is that it’s not comparable to the first 2 wrecks you mentioned. Chase and Kurt got bumped then got aero loose and spun to the inside. Aric got bumped and then got hooked in the right rear and turned in to the outside wall. I agree that Austin did what he had to do to win. But I don’t agree that it was just “bump drafting” Austin hooked him and wrecked him.

  18. I agree that the only reason people are complaining is because it was Austin. Had Dale Jr or Jeff Gordon done the same move, people would be defending it. I like both Austin and Aric, but Aric threw the block and Austin had a run. Yeah maybe Austin could’ve tried a different move, but you could say the same about a lot of drivers throughout the race. Plus, Aric did the same thing to Larson in the Xfinity race. Larson blocked and Aric moved him. That’s plate racing. Yeah you don’t want to see someone get turned at 200 mph, but I’m not sure what else you expect Austin to do. You get a big run and the dude blocks you. If you try to change lanes, you risk losing speed and then you lose the race. Do you guys think Dale Sr would’ve lifted or done something different? Hell he turned Rusty at talladegga and put him on his roof before. Just admit you’re mad about who won and not how he won. And to the people who say he wouldn’t have a ride if not for his grandpa, you can say the same for a lot of drivers. Paul Menard, Chase Elliot, Dale Jr, etc have all benefitted from their family name. Get over it.

    1. Wrong. I don’t hate Austin dillon, but that move was bullshit. And it would be bullshit no matter who the driver was. Stop making up reasons why fans disliked that shit move and accept that some people actually want to see them race and not just wreck each other.

  19. “And to the people who say he wouldn’t have a ride if not for his grandpa, you can say the same for a lot of drivers. Paul Menard, Chase Elliot, Dale Jr, etc have all benefitted from their family name. Get over it.”

    And Chase, Dale Jr and Menard have 1,111 combined starts and 27 combined wins.

  20. The way I always look at it is, “If that were my driver, would I feel the same way?” Trust me, if it were Kasey Kahne (or Bubba Wallace) instead of Austin Dillion, I’d be buying congratulatory billboards, hiring skywriting planes over the San Francisco Bay, and getting into the face of anybody who said it was a dirty move.

    So I can’t really dis Dillon for it, when if it were another driver, I’d be cheering.

    Oh, and Bubba Wallace gained a new fan in me this weekend, much like Matt Dibenedetto did after being so emotional with his Bristol finish a few years ago. I love the guys who appreciate where they are and don’t take anything for granted. Yeah, I’m sorta partial to the underdogs. : )

    After a few years of declining interest in NASCAR, am I the only one who feels things are looking up these days? It’s the drivers. The sport will still make stupid rules, but there is something about the young guys that makes it more fun. I’ll see if I feel this way mid-season. 😀 Oh, and I’m upping my pledge $5 a month, too.

  21. Jeff… no sound reason? You’re baffled why fans have a problem with that horseshit move? Wow. I really have to question whether you really have a clue about the fans and racing. Your comment is insulting and frankly clueless on your part, even after fans tweeted you why it was a shit move. But you ignored them.

    For some it might be the name of the driver, but for me it was a bullshit move that he should have been black flagged for since he intentionally wrecked him.

    The race is far from one of the greatest, and the ending ruined the day for me. Watching dillon in victory lane celebrating that tainted win was stomach churning.

  22. What is Austin Dillon’s account balance? Maybe a driver who has some deposits can make that move and not get such a negative reaction. Austin just makes withdraws.

    Fans feel like Aric has made some deposits, and deserved to be raced clean.

    I lost what little respect I had for him when he won the Xfinity championship without winning a race and said “it’s really cool to win the title without winning a race, people said it couldn’t be done.”


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