The Top Five: Breaking down the Daytona summer race

Five thoughts after Saturday night’s race at Daytona International Speedway…

1. Jonesing for a victory

Given all the talk this week about one of the younger drivers needing to win, Erik Jones’ first career victory came at a great time. It was one of the more prominent races (Daytona!) and a solid spotlight (first race of the season on NBC’s broadcast channel, a moment so important they brought in Mike Tirico to host).

Fans who probably don’t know much about Jones got to see him light up in the post-race interview and show some personality. That’s an important platform for a young driver who needs to get more exposure.

Seriously, this is great stuff:

Does this change anything? Jones was likely going to be in the playoffs whether he won or not (he’s 13th in the standings). But a victory might do wonders for his mindset; after all, he’s still only 22.

“I’m really expecting even bigger things from him,” crew chief Chris Gayle said. “You get a little confidence in him…we all know we can do it at this level. It just kind of helps you once you kind of get the first win. Everyone in the entire team knows that. So I’m looking for big things. It’s cool.”

Out of all the big name young drivers who have come onto the scene lately — like Elliott, Blaney, Suarez, Wallace, Byron, Bowman, Ty Dillon and Jones — only one of them had won a race so far. That was Blaney last year at Pocono.

So Jones makes it two, and now maybe he has something to build on. NASCAR can certainly hope.

2. They’re wrecking…again

I’m so conflicted about races like these. On the one hand, it certainly was exciting and entertaining. It’s not like anyone watching Saturday night would say, “This is boring!” People in attendance certainly got their money’s worth and the time investment for those at home definitely paid off.

On the other hand, it’s not satisfying to see so many cars wreck in multiple crashes. Seeing a Big One is part of the game at plate tracks, so it would almost feel odd if at least one didn’t happen — like going to a concert and your favorite band not playing their famous hit song. But you also don’t need to hear that song three times in the same concert.

And yet…you can’t deny narrowing the field set the stage for a crazy finish and a first-time winner. So those are positives and added to the entertainment factor.

Then again…sigh. I don’t know, I guess I don’t really have a take here other than I’m glad these races only happen a few times a year. They’re OK in very small doses.

Thrilling and dramatic? Yes. “Racing?” Eh…

3. Ricky has had better nights, but…

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. miscalculated a side draft and took out Kyle Busch and William Byron while they were battling for the lead.

Not good.

Other than that, I didn’t view his night quite as harshly as most others seemed to on social media (and in the stands, judging by the cheers from when he wrecked).

On the first Big One, I’m leaning toward Brad Keselowski’s point of view that Byron threw too big of a block.

As Keselowski spotter Joey Meier tweeted, there’s a fine line between managing a race (with the whole block-and-defend maneuvers perfected by Keselowski, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and others) and throwing a block.

From what I can tell, managing the lead requires moving up and down the lanes to take away the momentum from runs. In those cases, there’s no contact.

But blocking from the lead is when the move is last-minute enough that it leaves the trailing car with two options: Check up and hit the brakes or just drive through the leader.

Keselowski elected to check up, which caused Stenhouse — who had full momentum in the draft — to get into him. That’s why I don’t blame Stenhouse for that one.

Not that Stenhouse hasn’t been guilty of such a move before.

“I thought (Byron) blocked (Keselowski), but I did that here in February and threw an aggressive block down the back straightaway that in turn caused a big crash like that, too,” Stenhouse said. “I can’t be too mad because I felt like I did that in February.”

Stenhouse won two stages, but obviously wasn’t happy about his role in the race (he was officially part of five cautions on the race report) and even made a karma reference on himself regarding Kyle Larson taking him out later due to a cut tire.

“I was frustrated with myself causing crashes like that,” he said. “You don’t ever really want to do that.”

So would he have to do some damage control with other drivers this week?

“No, it’s aggressive speedway racing,” he said. “We needed to win to get in the playoffs, so it is what it is.”

That’s probably true, but unfortunately for him, situations like these often lack nuance. He’s going to take most of the blame for everything that happened Saturday night, even though he’s only partially at fault.

4. Underdogs have their day

In a race like this, there are always going to be some unusual results. Unless I missed someone, it looks like five of the 40 drivers in the race had their best career finishes — including Jones, of course.

Ty Dillon was sixth — his best career finish and first top 10. Jeffrey Earnhardt was 11th, which was the first top 20 of his career. Also, DJ Kennington had his best career result (13th). Ray Black Jr. was in just his fourth Cup race, but he hadn’t finished better than 34th before placing 16th on Saturday night.

There were other underdogs who had great nights, too.

How about JTG Daugherty Racing getting both of its drivers in the top five? AJ Allmendinger finished third and Chris Buescher was fifth, although it was Buescher who really had a chance to win the race.

Buescher, who gave Jones the winning push past Truex, said he thought he could shove the 20 car far enough to leave the two of them to determine the race. Then he planned to nudge Jones up the hill in Turn 3. But Truex side-drafted him and took away his momentum, leaving Jones to streak to the finish line well ahead of them both.

Also, Matt DiBenedetto was seventh, which was the second-best finish of his career and shouldn’t be overlooked. And Brendan Gaughan had yet another solid result at a plate race, finishing in 12th.

5. Points Picture

Erik Jones became this season’s seventh different winner, joining Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Truex, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon.

That means there are currently nine spots available to make the playoffs on points with just eight races left in the regular season.

Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Ryan Blaney are virtual locks.

Jimmie Johnson is currently safe by 54 points, Chase Elliott is in by 37 points and then Bowman (the cutoff position) is 19 points ahead of Stenhouse.

Stenhouse and Paul Menard (-55) are the only drivers with a realistic shot right now of making it on points.

Up next: Kentucky Speedway, where it should be back to the usual suspects running up front.

12 Replies to “The Top Five: Breaking down the Daytona summer race”

  1. I’m with you on this one Jeff. Super Speedway racing is not my thing. Way too much carnage, extra hard hits and total disappointment when 3/4 of the field is wrecked before half the race is over.Twenty -six cars in one wreck, #ridiculous. Never mind it scares me to death to see those vicious crashes.

  2. Jeff, what do you think the costs were to owners last night in wrecked cars alone ?
    What a total wreck fest !!!

  3. My fav part of the race last night were how the Underdogs finished! Granted it was all the wrecks that made it possible, but when you see these drivers out there week after week, small teams, little money get great finishes – well it makes this NASCAR fan smile for their moments in the sun

  4. “Racing?” Yes, it’s racing. Blame drivers for the wrecks, here Ricky Stenhouse. Competition where the maximum of cars are battling for the win instead of the minimum is what real racing is.

  5. Last night was hugely entertaining. But comparing it to real racing is like comparing professional wrestling to legit wrestling. One is thrilling, the other is for real. Need proof? In real racing the cream rises to the top; But anyone and everyone can win a restrictor plate race.

  6. Jeff, in discussing Stenhouse’s wrecks, why do you always neglect to mention when he hit Almirola? Did you forget?

  7. This is why the All star pkg would be a complete joke. You’d see this for half the season. No thanks. Non race fans at the bar I was watching the race at asked me if they always “stopped” this much and if it was a demo derby and if they were good why did they wreck so much. As a real race fan I said, they do 4 of these demo derby’s a year just to get rid of old shitty cars and do something different…..

  8. I was at the race (didn’t pay for an RV slot, got free tickets, in fact) and I was glad to be there.

    That said, I also activated my FanVisions and I’m going with the drivers on this one – Stenhouse was being a tool.

    On Kyle’s radio, 2 laps before he wrecked, Kyle was warned to try and stay high, because Ricky was trying to side draft in all the wrong places and had no idea what he was doing. Kyle was trying to stay high but couldn’t keep momentum… then, guess who “allegedly” tries to side-draft the back 10% of the car?

    On Clint’s radio (seriously, if you fans have never heard the whole race listening to him, it’s AWESOMELY hilarious), they were having lots of comments on Ricky, including one where they joked about taking the route to wreck everyone to win like “other folks” – and his crew after Clint climbed out… Yowza, that was… not repeatable here. Same with Bubba’s radio, Kahne’s, McDowell’s radio and more – even before he caused the second wreck.

    According to hubs, the same things were said on Jimmie’s radio and a blip of Truex (Truex rarely says two words at these tracks, it’s like the grave, which is even more impressive his spotter isn’t constantly ringing out nanoseconds to him and he can still work up and lead).

    Clearly, those drivers saw something (as did fans in the stands) that you, Jeff, did not. Ricky was literally flopping ALL OVER, in the car of EVERY driver he came across. Maybe it was a primo position I had, high in turn 1, which allowed me to see the whole track and all the bonehead moves Ricky was doing at any time? Whatever it was, it’s clear it was NOT a “racing deal”, not to pretty much any fan in the stands (including a funny RSJ fan nearby who took it in stride about the dumb things he was doing), nor any driver on any radio I heard.

    I can’t think of a single lap where he held his line. He was constantly “side drafting”, despite being in second and having absolutely no option to go or do anything even if he HAD gotten a side draft bump. In the Kyle crash, let’s pretend he was “side drafting” instead of being dumb and playing…. where would have have gone? Kyle was against Byron. He couldn’t shoot past, there was no hole. His only option carrying in extra speed would be to dump one of the two – and he did.

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