Despite involvement in multiple late-race crashes that marred the finish of the Busch Clash at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday, Erik Jones won the NASCAR Cup Series exhibition race.
“Yeah, it’s pretty bad, but the Camry kept running strong,” Jones said. “We came down and didn’t really know what we were trying to fix. I couldn’t see it, but could tell the hood was pretty torn up, and the right front was, as well. I didn’t know it was that bad, to be honest with you, until now, but it sure feels good to come out of here with a win, especially in a race with perseverance like that. You don’t want to give up, and when it pays off in the end, it makes it extra special.”
Jones led only the final lap of the race that was scheduled for 75 laps but extended to a record 88-lap distance by three overtimes. He was pushed to the lead by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in the final turn.
Hamlin was a lap down after a flat tire resulted in one of the late-race multi-car crashes, but he finished sixth. Only six of the 18 cars that started the race was still on the track for the checkered flag.
“It’s so awesome. I mean, I knew he needed to strap in, because that last, lap I was going to push him,” Hamlin said. “I didn’t care if I was going to push him into a wreck. I was just going to push him. It was fun. I mean, my car was so, so fast. Proud of the effort there. Glad we got a team win. I mean, that’s all I could really do at the end was push him to victory.”
Austin Dillon finished second, Clint Bowyer was third, Kyle Larson was fourth and pole sitter Ryan Newman was fifth.
Before a crash on lap 66 that began when Kyle Busch challenged Joey Logano for the lead, the yellow flag waved only once for a competition caution on lap 25. Brad Keselowski was among the drivers collected in the incident, and his hard contact with the wall resulted in his retirement from the race after leading a race-high 33 laps.
“I was going to look low, but I knew he was driving low, so then I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to go high,’ and then, he drove up the race track in front of me and then I was like, ‘Okay, now I’ve got to cut back down and cut low.’ When I did, I touched him just a little bit, which then, turned his car, and then, we were just sandwiched, and the wreck was on,” Busch said. “I don’t know. Either you can race or you can wreck. The reason why we ride in single file is because we don’t know how to race. Just a product of a few bad decisions, there, and we’re all crashed.”
By the end of the race, the yellow flag waved five times. The fourth caution, a result of the incident that cut Hamlin’s tire, turned into a red flag for track clean-up.
The late-race carnage was so extensive, all the cars finishing the race were involved in at least one of the wrecks.
Keselowski took the lead on lap 10 and ran up front until Ford and Toyota teams chose to pit under green, just before the competition caution. Meanwhile, Chevrolet teams waited until the yellow to pit, and pit, again, during the same caution to top-off their fuel cells.
Keselowski was back up front after the Chevrolet teams pitted and led most of the laps before the Ford and Toyota drivers pitted under green, again, around lap 46.
Several Chevrolet drivers, including William Byron, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Alex Bowman, took turns in the lead before Joey Logano retook the lead for Ford on lap 59.
The Chevrolet teams ditched their strategy of only pitting under the competition caution when the rash of late-race cautions broke out.