Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway
Kurt Busch survives the crashes to win his first Daytona 500
February 26, 2017: Most of the day it looked like it could be almost anybody's race to win but in the closing laps , when it seemed as if Chase Elliott had a lock on the win, he slowed and Kurt Busch charged to the front. He took the lead on the final, white-flag, lap and he held on to win ahead of Ryan Blaney. Kyle Larson, who had been credited with the lead on the penultimate lap fell back on that final lap and finished in 12th place. A.J. Allmendinger finished third, Aric Almirola fourth and Paul Menard fifth.
Chase Elliott, who had won the pole in qualifying a week earlier and who had won his half of the Duel on Thursday evening, took the lead on lap 175 of the 200-lap race and he led a single-file line of cars around for the next several laps. Just when it was looking like he was set to win like this, his car hiccupped with fuel starvation and he fell back out of contention – in the end he finished 14th. This let Martin Truex Jr take over the lead for a lap, then Kyle Larson for the next lap until Busch dropped below them all and shot past them into the lead.
In contrast to the wreck-filled Xfinity and truck races the two previous days, this one started off smoothly and it ran to the end of Stage 1 (60 laps) with just one caution which came when Corey LaJoie come down onto pit road too fast. He couldn't get slowed down and he shot up into the outside wall. Kyle Busch was leading at the end of Stage 1 and was credited as the stage winner.
Already we had seen that the different teams were executing different green-flag pit stop strategies given the certain knowledge of when the yellow would fly to end each of the first two stages (60 laps and 120 laps) – and they seemed to be working with all the other teams running the same manufacturer's equipment (Ford, Chevrolet or Toyota). As a result, as these pit stops occurred at different lap distances according to each make's pit stop plan, it produced a cycle which would see first on make than another lead with a pack of their cars until the next pit stops occurred to shuffle things up. This strategy was something I can't recall having seen to this extent and, if it continues into the subsequent races on the shorter non-restrictor-plate tracks we will have to decide if we like it or not. For my money one of the attractive features of NASCAR racing was the way it was almost always obvious to the race fans in the grandstands exactly what was happening and how the race strategy was unfolding. I fear that the new "stages" pattern will continue to complicate things so much that ordinary fans will have serious trouble following the race as it plays out and for them, like here, the shuffling in the closing laps which produced a totally expected winner will just leave them confused. Kurt Busch fans – thought perhaps thin on the ground – may have been happy but I wonder if everybody else left the track simply shaking their heads in wonderment.
It did not take long into Stage 2 for a fairly big wreck to occur when Kyle Busch had a tire go flat and he spun in front of the field, collecting a number of potential race winners – including Dale Earnhardt Jr, Matt Kenseth, Ty Dillon as well as the hot new rookie Erik Jones and the veteran Elliott Sadler. It was serious enough that they red-flagged the race while the track was cleaned up. After that, the race ran without incident through to the end of Stage 2 on lap 120; this stage was won by Kevin Harvick.
The third and final stage (80 laps) had hardly begun before we had another big wreck, set off when Jamie McMurray tried to make a third lane above Jimmie Johnson and two other cars all running side-by-side which collected 17 cars including the Canadian hopeful D.J. Kennington who was unable to continue. No sooner had this mess been cleaned up and the race waved green again when there was yet another crashfest on the frontstretch when Blaney slowed to come into the pits and the thundering horde behind him failed to slow enough and four of them crashed.
Back to green and yet another crash. This time Jamie McMurray was trying to make a third row below Elliott but there was no room and McMurray spun out of control and setting off another melee. By now there were only five cars left without some crash damage.
With all these cautions the field was a now a jumble of lapped cars and lead-lap cars which only complicated things. At the end of this caution the same thing repeated itself with two cars getting together on the backstretch. This caution, which ended on lap 153, was to be the final one of the day. After that, things settled down and the cars formed up in line astern running to the end. Elliott took over the lead on lap 175 and it looked like he might lead the field home to win the race. But that was not to be and, in the end, it was Kurt Busch in his battered-and-beat Monster Energy Ford that took the lead on the final lap and won the race.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Can-Am Duel at Daytona International Speedway
Elliott and Hamlin win the two qualifying races; Canada's Kennington qualifies for the 500
Feb 23, 2017: The "Twin 150s" at the Daytona Speed Weeks remain as a last vestige of the traditional qualifying races in which the starters and the starting lineup for the "main" are determined. They still have complicated formula to determine the starting lineup for the big race but, with just 42 entries and 40 starting spots available in Sunday's 500, the effect of this whole folderol is to eliminate just two back markers from starting in the big race. Given that it is a 500-mile race over a high-banked superspeedway, the actual starting positions are of little significance. But the Thursday race – significant or not – does make for an exciting start to the four days of racing at the end of the Speed Weeks especially after the long winter hiatus.
The Duel is made up of two 150-mile races and the finishing order does determine the starting order in the 500, save for the front row which is reserved for the fastest two runners in the previous Sunday's "qualifying" runs and some other complications which award starting positions at the back of the field based on the previous Sunday's timed runs.
In the first of the two 150s, Chase Elliott started on the pole but almost immediately Brad Keselowski took the lead in his Penske Ford. He traded the lead with Kyle Busch for the first 36 laps but then Elliott came to the fore and led the rest of the way to the checkered flag.
In the second 150, Dale Earnhardt Jr. started from the pole and he led most of the race save for two occasions when first Denny Hamlin and then Ryan Blaney led for a couple of laps each. But, with just two laps to go, Hamlin passed Earnhardt for the lead. Earnhardt faded back to finish fifth while Hamlin hung on to take the win.
When it was all done the two cars that were eliminated from the starting lineup of Sunday's 500 were Reed Sorenson and Timmy Hill.
D.J. Kennington, who is a veteran Canadian stock car driver from St. Thomas, Ontario, finished 14th in the second 150. This was good enough to give him a 28th starting position in the lineup for the 500, the first time a Canadian had qualified for this race since Trevor Boys did so in 1988. Kennington has started one other Cup race, the Phoenix race last fall.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources QQQ 250 at Daytona International Speedway
Young Grala emerges as the winner in a crash-filled truck race
Feb. 24, 2017: Kaz Grala, an 18-year-old who joined the GMS (Gallagher) team last year and who still has rookie status, put his truck on the pole for the truck race. In the race he only led the first 13 laps before he was overwhelmed by the more experienced drivers. He never led again until the final checkered-flag lap. When everyone started wrecking up front on that last lap he managed to squeeze through to take the win.
Veteran Johnny Sauter, who also drives for GMS, had been the dominant driver the entire race, winning both the first and second "stages" earlier in the race. Coming off the fourth caution on lap 78 of the 100-lap race he held the lead over his teammate Grala and they ran that way until the next caution which came with two laps to go when John Hunter Nemechek spun in the second turn.
The final green came with just two laps to go and, once again Sauter was in the lead but now he was challenged by Matt Crafton in the ThorSport Toyota but as they ran side-by-side for the lead. Then, as they started the final lap, Ben Rhodes, Crafton's ThorSport teammate pulled up alongside them on the top of the banking. But coming off the second turn, Rhodes lost it and set off the second "Big One" of the race when he spun down the banking collecting Crafton and Timothy Peters – and then Sauter. Crafton's truck flew up into the air doing a complete flip before settling down on its wheels while general chaos ensued among the rest of the field which had been bunched up by that recent caution.
Somehow, Grala, who had been running close behind back in fifth a couple of rows aft of that lead cluster, came through unscathed and emerged as the race leader and the winner. The unexpected finish order was Grala, Austin Wayne Self, Chase Briscoe, John Hunter Nemechek (despite having spun out and dropped to the back of the field only a few laps previously) and his dad Joe Nemechek. Grala is the youngest driver to ever win a truck series race.
On a personal note, anyone who lives in Canada has to rely on the "Fox Racing Network" to televise these truck races and much of the pre-race practice and qualifying sessions in the Cup and Xfinity series as well as other race series like IMSA and the NHRA. This is the second year of this particular cable service which is cobbled together using content from their American sports channels FS1 and FS2. Unfortunately the rest of their air time seems to be filled with reruns of these race broadcasts and a whole lot of filler of old racing-related shows and assorted crap. I don't mind what they show to fill in the gaps; I simply don't watch this filler. But I am slowly being driven crazy by their awful practice of showing the same program promos over and over relentlessly during the racing shows I want to watch. I try to resort to muting the sound by, by now, I know the script for the Car Wars and the Pinks, etc. by heart and it becomes an ear worm. FSR has no advertising so it has to fill in the advertising slots in the FS!/FS2 broadcasts with promos. They have made a small effort to address this by adding some public service spots to the mix, but I wish that they did more of that and, if they are going to fill the time with promos, can they at least produce some new content for 2017?
NASCAR Xfinity Powershares QQQ 300 at Daytona International Speedway
Ryan Reed, driving a Roush Ford, beats out the Cup interlopers for the win
February 25, 2017: Ryan Reed, who won here in 2015, emerged as the winner of the crash-filled race beating Cup regulars Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon and Brad Keselowski to do it. Not a single Roush Ford won a NASCAR race in 2016, so it was a welcome relief for the team's regular Xfinity driver to score in this high-profile first race of the 2017 season.
The race was filled with crashes, two of which resulted in the race being stopped before "Stage 1" had been completed. With this long delay in the race proceedings, the race inevitably ran late into the darkness, finishing nearly two hors later than the scheduled television time slot ended.
The first "Big One" came on lap 24 when Scott Lagasse, who was running in about seventh place in the 40-car field, attempted to bump draft with Tyler Reddick and spun him creating chaos behind them. NASCAR, listed 20 cars as being involved in this wreck.
After the red flag was taken in and the race restarted they only ran a couple of laps before there was another crash. This time, Daniel Hemric (new to this series this year) was running in the lower line a little bit behind the lead four-car pack when he suddenly swerved up to the right and collided with Justin Allgaier, setting off a second "Big One" even before the end of Stage 1. Another red flag stopped the race while they cleared up this new mess. Already the count was that there were only 13 cars in the race that had not yet sustained damage.
After that, the race seemed to be a bit less chaotic – but we were to see a total of ten cautions during the course of the 120 lap race – a race that actually saw the checker fall on lap 124 after the race went into overtime, the result of the tenth caution which flew on lap 119. In this overtime final run, Reed lined up alongside Keselowski with the two Dillon brothers behind in the second row. Reed held on to the lead while Kahne and Austin Dillon lined up to charge forward. They got past Keselowski, dropping him to fourth, but Reed was able to hold on and take the win.
Even on this final lap the cars were wrecking out behind the leaders but it was too late for another yellow to fly – and everyone was anxious to call it a day.
Elliott Sadler in the JR Racing (Earnhardt) Chevrolet was the winner of both Stage 1 and Stage 2 but he was knocked out of contention on lap 104 when, while leading, he was tapped from behind by Austin Dillon and he crashed into the wall, ending his day. This set off the third "Big One" of the race, which set up the scenario for the final few laps of the race. In the end there were only ten cars that had escaped involvement in one wreck or other – but that number did not include the winner Reed who had pitted for repairs after the big wreck on lap 23.
MENCS: Chris Graythen/Getty Images/NASCAR
NXS: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images/NASCAR
NCWTS: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images/NASCAR
Duel: Gaunt Brothers Racing