Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2018 Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona

Who… gets my shoutout of the race?

Austin Dillon started on the pole and ran a competitive race.  He might have had a late run for the victory, in fact, had it not been derailed by a crash on track. Still, Dillon was able to finish a strong fifth.  He ran a smart, solid race, and he was trying to make something happen on the final lap. A small shift in circumstances, like many plate races, could have provided an even better ending.

What… is the takeaway from this race?

There is a lot to like about the changes NASCAR made to the restrictor plate package this season.  The Clash looked a bit like some Daytona races of old. There were gaps between groups of cars, causing a much greater ability for an organized group to make a run at the front.  Handling also played a larger role, the new ride height rules leaving cars less stable in the air. Drivers were able to move from deep in the field toward the front.  That’s all good.

What was missing was the feeling the lead was the last place a driver wanted to be with a lap or two to go. Perhaps the field waited too long to make a move, any move at all, on the leader. Or maybe if Kyle Larson hadn’t turned Jimmie Johnson on the final lap, which stalled any last-ditch run, someone would have been able to get by Brad Keselowski.  But compared to the first segment of the race, the finish was a little disappointing.

The package from the early 2000s, which produced some of the best plate racing to date, remains NASCAR’s best. Dale Earnhardt’s final win at Talladega stands as the gold standard, and I was also a fan of the tandem racing a few years back. Still, this package is solid and should produce some excitement for superspeedway fans next weekend.


Where… did Brad Keselowski come from?

Keselowski started at the tail of the field Sunday. But he said before the race he felt the No. 2 team could win, and win they did. It’s true that he benefitted from the last-lap crash, waylaying anyone else’s chance at a win. But the 2012 Cup Series champ got to the front and stayed there, keeping out of the line of fire.

Keselowski is one of the sport’s best plate racers, though he’s fared better at Talladega than Daytona.  He’s intuitive enough to know when to make a run and aggressive enough to make the right moves. But he’s also smooth enough to make those moves without the tiny mistakes that prove the difference between getting to the front and winding up in the middle of a pile of smoking wrecks.

Winning the preseason warm-up hasn’t traditionally meant much the following weekend, when the race is 500 miles. But it gives Keselowski a little Daytona swagger and makes him one to watch when it really counts.

When… was the moment of truth?

On the final lap, we should have seen what the cars can do in the draft with big money on the line. Instead what we saw was a cloud of smoke as Larson, spurred from behind by Kyle Busch, ran into the back of Johnson. That proved to be a big mistake, sending Johnson around and collecting Busch.

The caution means there’s still a question mark about whether the leader can be challenged late in the race. But it did put an exclamation point on how difficult the cars are to handle in their current trim.  Larson looked to hit Johnson square, which in the past they might have gotten away from, but not this time. The Chevrolet Camaro bears watching this week; its nose configuration appears to be more difficult to push with than its predecessor, so while fast, the model will take some getting used to.

Can one contend?  Sure, and so far at least, the three makes seemed fairly equal.  We’ll know more on that front a month from now, but Chevy has looked strong at Speedweeks if nothing else.


Why… do we still have the yellow line rule?

The rule was implemented at a time when NASCAR was desperate to make racing safer.  It was designed to keep drivers from diving onto the apron at Daytona and (moreso) Talladega and then blending back into traffic going into the turns.  The banking at those tracks and the speed at which cars travel made the move a dangerous one. It’s hard to hang on to a stock car as it crosses from a flat surface to a much more vertical one. The driver would often lose control and cause a crash, or there would be no room for him to blend in, also causing a wreck. In theory, it was a safety improvement at a time when the sport was a little gun-shy.

It’s tough to see other drivers’ days end early from an incident they played no role in causing. But other safety improvements have made that aspect of the rule less critical than they were when the walls were concrete and the cars less able to take the shock of an impact.

It’s also nearly impossible to call fairly because what constitutes a driver forced down below the yellow line is cloudy.  If a driver does dip a few feet low, he’s easy prey. Pin him there and he can’t make any move except to drop back. NASCAR rarely makes the call that the driver was forced down over the line, even when it looks clear that he was.

The rule states that if a driver gives the position back if he gains one below the line, there’s no penalty. But it’s next to impossible to give a position to one car on a plate track, so he’ll lose multiple positions. That’s if someone doesn’t run over him in the process, causing the wreck the rule was meant to avoid in the first place.

In the “Boys, Have At It” era, the rule should be ruled obsolete.  With every point so valuable these days, most drivers aren’t going to make a move that will potentially cost them a race, and if it’s the last lap, it’s the last lap.  I’m all for making racing as safe as possible, but in this case, the rule has been detrimental.  Maybe it’s time for that double yellow line to fade into the past.

How… important are the two non-points races?

Here’s an answer for you:  They’re really important and not very important at all. To the teams in the season-opening Clash and midseason All-Star Race, they’re a chance to do two things: let it all hang out with nothing on the line and learn a little something for points-paying races later on.  That first part is why they’re great for fans with nothing to lose but some pride and a very expensive racecar.  These races are one of the few times when teams don’t have to worry about anything but checker or wreckers, and it shows in boldness and aggression throughout the event.

But don’t think for a moment that teams in this race had nothing to gain but a trophy. Next week’s Daytona is NASCAR’s biggest stage, and the 17 drivers in Sunday’s event got extra practice time for the Clash as well as the race itself.  And while they won’t race the same cars next weekend, they can learn how the new restrictor plate package handles in race conditions. That’s an advantage over 23 other teams and drivers.  Fair?  Maybe not, but there is certainly an argument to be made for earning the spot. The flip side is the Clash further separates the haves and have-nots. Let’s face it: if you don’t have money, you ain’t in the show dedicated to pole winners and playoff drivers.

On the other hand, these races more often than not end up with some torn-up cars. All for what, exactly? They’re fun to watch because of the nothing-to-lose mentality. But they’re awfully expensive and make an already-long season two weeks longer for teams.

All in all, NASCAR’s Clash and All-Star Race are fun events for fans. In the case of the Clash, they’re an exciting welcome to the season.  If the teams didn’t have to be there already for Daytona 500 practice and qualifying, adding another week away from home for teams would be less appealing.

But since everyone is at the track anyway, why not have a little race?

About the author

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Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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Bill B

The single file parade that developed with less than 15 laps left worried me. And the fact that it didn’t seem like anyone wanted to get out of line and try to make something happen is even more worrisome. No points on the line and it seemed everyone was afraid to get out of line and try to win. So what if you go from 5th to 12th, it was an exhibition race.

If you are going to question the relevance of the Clash and All-Star race, you really have to question the twin qualifying races on Thursday. There are 40 guys trying for 470 spots, why do we need two races to determine the starting order when it where you start matters less at an RP track than anywhere else. And, as a bonus, you get a great chance to wreck your primary car for the most prestigious race of the season.


didn’t mike joy make it a point to say that the cars they were racing yesterday were not their 500 cars?

Bill B

Hi Janice.
Yes the cars they raced yesterday in the Clash aren’t their 500 cars.
I was talking about the Twin 150s on Thursday. Is it worth wrecking your Daytona 500 car to get a good starting spot? Everyone will make the field so the only thing they are racing for is where they will line up on the grid.


nope, if i were on the front row i’d be a start and parker. but i guess they need track time cause of rule changes regarding practice.

Bill B

I am going to make a prediction that the lower end of the field, teams with tight budgets and limited resources for whom wrecking a car is a major setback, will be parking as well.


like princess sparkle pony?


bud sudz

I was thinking the same thing from a strategy perspective. If you are David Ragan and Michael McDowell, do you make a green flag run, practice the new pit procedures. then park it? Or maybe you make two extra green flag pit stops for 5-man practice, then park it.
In the 80’s, the front row starters would start and park to protect their piece for the 500.
The one thing that does make the 150’s of value is the fact that Stage Points are being awarded.

Bill B

bud, I am not a big fan of giving points for the 150 qualifying races, but it does give them a (lame) purpose for running them when no one will be sent home,,, points.


The biggest, most important, and perplexing yet unanswered question is…

…what’s going on with Dillon’s hair? High & tight gone awry or am I just too old to understand?


Looks like someone set a bowl on his head and then gave him a buzz cut. Probably paid someone $50 to do it. Yikes!!!!! Can’t decide if the haircut or the cowboy hat he wore before looked worse. One thing for sure he ain’t no Petty. Maybe he’s just trying to make his mark.?


i’m wondering why fords didn’t got to mustang, since chevy is racing camero. fusion has to have a longer wheel base than the camero, but then na$car makes up the rules as they go.

relevance? none that i know of except tearing up equipment in the last lap or two as the checkers are getting ready to be displayed. typical. i guess we’ll see the same thing in during segment racing at plate tracks.


None of that makes a difference. The wheelbase and generally all the relevant body specs are mandated by nascar. The nose and tail panels resemble a Camaro or Camry, but look at them in side view, its basically the same old thing theyve been running since the COT.


Thanks Russ

Carl D.

I don’t know but those Fusions were stout yesterday. May it was a case of not fixing something that ain’t broke.


I can’t wait to see Danica run her final 500, and I hope she does well!

Bill B

Oh, I am sure we all do.

Bobby DK

I dig those camoflouged stands. Looked like a packed house yesterday.


If they had the double yellow line rule in 1999 Rusty Wallace would have won the Daytona 500 that year. As a kid growing up a Rusty fan that move Jeff Gordon made to pass Rusty going into 1 makes me sick every time I see it. I also blame Ricky Rudd for having his torn up car out on the track. I once heard Rusty explain that lifting to allow Gordon back on the track was the hardest decision he’s ever had to make in a race. “Just wasn’t worth killing someone over” he said.


I’m glad someone else remembers the reason for my “Gordon” rule.


Yep. That memory is scarred into me. That was supposed to be Rusty’s Daytona 500 win. He led over half the laps that day and it was going to be fitting that he won his the year after Dale Sr. finally won his.

For as great as Rusty’s career was he was a bride’s maid so many times, especially in the biggest moments. Finished 2nd 3 times at the Brickyard and was leading with 10 to go in each one of them. Finished 2nd in the championship in 93 to Earnhardt despite winning 10 races that year. The only guy who ever proved to be a bigger bride’s maid was Mark Martin.

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