Race Recap: Brad Keselowski wins at Atlanta

Well, that race is a great example of why it’s NEVER over until it’s over. I think DW put it best when he tweeted “don’t start handing out the hats until they all cross the checkered.”

Kevin Harvick absolutely dominated the entire race. The 4 car lead all but 17 laps up until late in the going when Harvick sped on pit road during the final round of pit stops. A near perfect day absolutely wasted.

The 4 was stuck in the back of the pack as Keselowski worked his way past Kyle Larson fr the win. Harvick ended up finishing ninth in the running order. Let’s clean the rest up…

-That race was absolutely boring. Harvick easily won the first two stages, and if it weren’t for the rule changes to implement the stages there wouldn’t have been a caution for the first 200 laps of this race. Brutal. Mile-and-a-half’s, man…

-Once again we see a driver being rewarded for performance throughout the entire race with this new points system. Even though Harvick blew it at the end, he still got good points for his dominant performance.

-Should they re-pave Atlanta? Yes or no? I can’t figure it out. We just witnessed two straight years of going “caution free” for 200+ laps. I’m not so sure that’s exciting racing for the average viewer. The racing at Atlanta sure is loose and fast, I’m just not sure it’s very exciting.

-Good for Brad to recover from a late race issue of his own to grab his first win of 2017.

On to Las Vegas.

Race Recap: Kurt Busch wins first Daytona 500

What an unpredictable race that was. It certainly felt like a tale of two halves. The first half full of calm and strategy, the second full of crashes and chaos. In the end, Kurt Busch won the war of attrition and finally took home his first Daytona 500 win. Let’s break it all down…

-There was certainly a lot of strategy early in the race. The Gibbs and Furniture Row Toyotas pitted together early, and then the Stewart-Haas and Penske Fords did the same thing. The result was the flipping of the field that strung out the pack and put a few good cars a lap down. The 11 was my pick to win and it seemed like he could never even get to the front. That’s something that surprised me, and the strategy certainly played a role in that.

-The racing seemed to settle down a bit as the pack strung itself out, but that all changed right after halfway. Kyle Busch spun after getting a flat right rear tire in Turn 3, collecting Dale Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ty Dillon, and Erik Jones. An unfortunate crash for Junior in his first race back. Will be interesting to see if there was a drop-off in TV ratings after the 88 retired.

-Kevin Harvick won Stage 2 and the entire race changed after that. The best I can figure is that once the stages finished many drivers simply felt more rushed to get to the finish? There seemed to be some extra desperation and lack of patience, never a good combo at Daytona.

Two past Daytona 500 champions, Jamie McMurray and Trevor Bayne, seemed to be a little too aggressive coming down the backstretch. The result was another huge crash that took out Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick. A total of 17 cars were involved in that one. Completely unnecessary aggressive racing with over 70 laps still to go. You could even hear Jeff Gordon say right before the crash, “do they think there are 10 laps to go?”

But that’s what Daytona does. It creates anxiety and desperation, forcing veteran drivers to make mistakes they wouldn’t normally make.

-Thought we were done? Nope. Not even a full lap later going back to green, McMurray forced the issue again on the backstretch and turned Chase Elliott. The result was another huge crash that took out a bunch of the leaders, McMurray, Suarez, Hamlin, Keselowski, Newman all involved.

-As the laps wound down it seemed like no one was going to be able to slip past leader Chase Elliott. The guys in the booth talked about it, could any of those banged up, damaged cars make a move in the draft?

Suddenly with three to go, total chaos. The 24 car sputtered, short on fuel, and Martin Truex Jr. took the lead. Then the 78 sputtered and Kyle Larson was able to go to the lead and take the white flag. In turn 2, Kurt Busch was able to go to the outside of the 42 and take the lead and Larson also ran out of gas. Ryan Blaney and A.J. Allmendinger tried to chase down the 41, but they couldn’t get close enough. Kurt Busch, who seemed to be the one that was going to be short on fuel, was able to make it the distance to win the 500.

-I didn’t even think about this until Gordon mentioned it in the booth. Chase Elliott had the field running around using the high line for the last 20 or so laps. That, of course, means that those cars were driving a longer distance than if they ran along the bottom. All of those guys who ran out of fuel… could they have possibly made it to the end if they had been using the bottom?

-Busch said in his post race interview that his rear-view mirror fell down with around 30 laps to go. He went the whole rest of the way with no vision straight behind him. That’s unbelievable… Honestly? I think it may have even benefited him. The 41 was fourth in line in those closing laps. All he should have been concerned with was holding it wide open and going straight, which is what he did. Straight to victory lane.

-I’ve never been a Kurt Busch fan. I would never consider him a well-liked driver by any means. He wasn’t my first choice to win in that final group. His past has certainly been checkered, and I don’t mean flags.

But this victory is quite the redemption story, isn’t it? He’s seemed to be more grounded with SHR recently, and how much credit can we give to Tony Stewart and Tony Gibson for that? I think a lot. I guess it’s never too late to be redeemed.

-I did find it odd, though maybe not too surprising, that many commentators on FOX and ESPN seemed to be more enthralled with the fact that Tony Stewart and Tony Gibson were finally going to victory lane at Daytona than with the fact that Kurt Busch was…

-Michael Waltrip has been one of my favorite drivers for a long, long time. I’m glad Mikey could get a Top 10 finish in his final start in the Daytona 500. I look forward to seeing him continue his broadcasting for FOX. A great ambassador, and entertainer, for the sport.

-I think the stages will translate better to mile-and-a-half and one mile tracks. On those circuits the stages will break up the race and re-stack the field. For restrictor plate racing, it felt like the stages broke up the action too much. The strategy certainly strung out and flipped the field, which made things interesting.

I think the stage system does work, though. Drivers are being rewarded for performance throughout the entire race. Excited to see how it develops throughout the season.

-I understand the thinking behind the five-minute repair rule. I still think NASCAR needs to tweak it just a little bit. I may write on this during the week, but I feel like there isn’t enough consistency with the rule. Too much gray area.

Well, now we enter that time known as “Post-Daytona Depression.” Every single year, since I was five years old, I just get really sad once the Daytona 500 is over. It makes no sense, really. The whole season is ahead of us. But there’s just something so special about Daytona. It means so much more. The build-up for the entire month of February is just intoxicating. I love it so much, and I already can’t wait until next year.

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Race Recap: Ryan Reed wins second Xfinity race at Daytona

Well, that was exciting… and long… very, very long. Roush driver Ryan Reed held off Cup regulars Brad Keselowski and Kasey Kahne to score his second victory at Daytona in the Xfinity Series. As mentioned above, the race was incredibly long due to two massive crashes early in the race that resulted in red flags. Let’s clean it all up…

-NASCAR will have to do some tweaking to the Xfinity restrictor plate package when it comes to rear downforce. It seemed like cars were getting loose and turned even when the bump drafting was square. Unfortunately, that’s what took out Elliott Sadler, who won the first two stages, gathering vital championship stage points despite the accident.

-Thank God for SAFER barriers. They saved Brandon Jones’ life today. With all of NASCAR’s advancements in safety over the past 16 years, there haven’t been many times where I’ve held my breath in fear after a crash. Today, I was incredibly afraid after Jones got turned and hit the wall head-on, resulting in a massive wreck that took out many good cars.

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It looked eerily similar to another infamous crash in that part of the track… Just a terrifying hit. Thank Goodness that Jones and everyone else were ok.

-The stage points system is already doing its job. First, it’s providing action early in the race. Second, it’s rewarding driver performance throughout the whole race (Sadler).

-This was one of the most unique races I’ve ever watched. There were two huge crashes and two lengthy red flags… all before reaching the 30 lap mark. It seemed like every single car had some form of damage on it. One of those cars was eventual race winner Ryan Reed. His 16 was involved in two separate wrecks, had a patchwork of dents and tape, and still won the dang thing!

-An incredibly exciting race, despite its length. Don’t expect such a crash-fest tomorrow.

-Side note: “Powershares QQQ 300” is the WORST race name of all time. Brutal hashtag.

Race Recap: Kaz Grala wins wild Daytona Trucks race

Once again, for the millionth year in a row, the Truck Series race at Daytona didn’t disappoint. You could certainly make the argument that it’s perennially the most exciting race of the weekend. There was a huge crash on the first lap, and a horrifying pile-up on the last lap coming to the checkers. In the end, 18-year-old pole sitter Kaz Grala became the youngest driver to win a NASCAR series race at Daytona. Some thoughts…

-What an unbelievable finish. Grala was running sixth when the pack came out of turn two on the final lap. The leaders went three wide, and then absolute chaos… Veteran Matt Crafton got turned, did a 360 flip through the air and landed on Johnny Sauter, as seemingly the entire field crashed behind them. Grala held it wide open on the bottom and was able to slip by and win the race. One of the wildest crashes I’ve ever seen.

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-This was the first NASCAR sanctioned race with the new stage points system. You could tell right away that these guys were going to battle for every point, even though it was Daytona. I thought the stages could have maybe been 30 laps each, 20 laps seemed a bit short for an official stage. But I like the system, hopefully it continues to work well.

-The crash on Lap 2 was unfortunate. Seemed like one of those racing deals. Chase Briscoe got Noah Gragson loose coming out of the tri-oval, causing a big crash and taking a lot of good trucks out really early.

-Defending series champ Johnny Sauter won each of the first two stages, and seemed to pace the field through most of the third. Sauter seemed to be in good position in the final laps until that caution with around three to go. After that it was a craps shoot following the double-wide restart.

-Both Nemechek’s, Joe and John Hunter, slipped by the big crash to finish in the Top 5. Great showing for NEMCO.

-I really like Kaz Grala. He seems like a great kid, and hopefully s growing star in NASCAR. I died laughing when he said: “I didn’t know how to do a victory lap, but I’m Polish so I figured I should drive backwards.”

-Another great trucks race at Daytona. It was action packed and exciting through all 100 laps. A lot of good, young drivers in the field learning and making mistakes.

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On to Saturday…

Race Recap: Elliott and Hamlin win Daytona Duels

The field is officially set for Sunday’s running of the Daytona 500. Thursday night’s qualifying races had plenty of action, and shed a lot of light on what we can expect to happen in three days. Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin took the checkered flags with a pair of impressive drives. Here’s how it all happened…

Duel #1: Winner – 24 Chase Elliott

-I had been wondering if the 24’s speed was “real speed,” and what I mean by that is that I wasn’t sure if his pole qualifying speed was going to translate to race trim, pack speed. I think we all know the answer to that question. The 24 was able to grab the lead and hold it. Young Chase Elliott did a fantastic job to hold the top spot, and it seemed like the Hendrick cars had their handling issues figured out a little better.

-I was a little disappointed with the Toyota’s. The speed is obviously there (as we saw in the second duel) but I think they just couldn’t get all hooked up together like they did in The Clash. They almost seem to work better together as opposed to when they’re around other cars they look uncomfortable at times. I’m sure they’ll be fine come Sunday.

-The start was straight bananas. So much action right off the bat in this race. After the competition caution it seemed like the outside line couldn’t quite get going until the closing laps. It felt like the opposite happened in the second race. But you could tell right from the jump that the drivers were anxious to get going.

-Jamie McMurray has a fast car, and was really aggressive and shook things up at the front. Watch out for him Sunday, one of the best restrictor plate drivers in the series.

-Reed Sorenson had a hard lick in the closing laps. Thank God for the new SAFER barrier on the inside going into turn one, it  might have saved his life. Unfortunately for the 55 they were unable to race their way in, or get in on speed. Sorenson had some choice words for Corey Lajoie, who spun him out, but it didn’t look malignant from my seat.

Duel #2: Winner – 11 Denny Hamlin

-Pretty obvious, but the 88 and 11 are BAD FAST.

-Denny Hamlin had to go to the back of the pack after a penalty on pit road. He somehow made his way back up into the top 10 in just a few laps, without any teammates. The 11 was seemingly able to move and pass on his own, and then made a greatly timed move to pass Junior coming to the white flag.

-Speaking of the 88, Dale Jr. looked stout up front, leading 53 of 60 laps until being passed by Hamlin. The 88 car looks really, really strong, and Junior looked great back behind the wheel. He made a real smart move to not throw a block on Hamlin there at the end. No need to risk wrecking when you’re already set to start on the front row.

-I was 2/3’s right with my picks. Correct with Hamlin, and then kinda correct with the darkhorse pick of Ryan Blaney. The 21 looked real good up front early in the second run, contesting for the lead with Junior. Unfortunately that contact with Ragan and Johnson cut a tire and took the 21 out of contention. But those Wood Brothers guys are always quick.

Observations heading into Sunday…

-It seemed like handling wasn’t much of an issue. There were a few great saves by guys that prevented multiple crashes. The grip will obviously go away on Sunday during the day when the sun is shining on the track. Look for cars to be sliding a little bit more.

-There will be a bunch of strong cars coming from the back to the front early in the race. Guys like Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard, and Kasey Kahne will have to battle through traffic to get up front.

-I’m interested to see if drivers pay less attention to the stage results because it’s the 500, or if they are going to be battling for points. Will be interesting to see how much action we get from the drop of the green flag.

-You’d be crazy to not bet on one of the 11, 88, 24 or 2. To me, those were the four strongest cars tonight.