Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Daytona: Same Stuff, Different Daytona 500 (for Kyle Busch Too)

What Happened?

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. barely edged out Joey Logano when the final caution flag waved on Sunday (Feb. 19) at Daytona International Speedway to win his first Daytona 500. The duo was followed by Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher and Alex Bowman.

This is the first NASCAR Cup Series win for JTG Daugherty Racing since 2014 and the first Daytona 500 victory for a black team owner in history (Brad Daugherty).

See also
Stock Car Scoop: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Swoops In, Nabs Daytona 500 Crown

But What Really Happened?

When it comes to the Next Gen car on superspeedways, more of the same.

And you know what? That’s OK.

We don’t see the three-lane battles that we have become accustomed to at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway in the past, which of course means less exciting images of cars sandwiching each other while driving at over 190 mph.

On the other hand, the Next Gen car does not like single-file racing either. Almost every time the Cup Series field tried to run single file, out came some motivated driver in the back of the field to begin another line again.

That’s the cool part.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Next Gen cars really seem to work well when the field is side-by-side in these drafting races. If you don’t believe that, rewatch the first 10 laps of this race and say how many passes you saw.

With the exception of some scattered multi-car crashes here and there, Sunday’s race was mostly a stagnant neck and neck drag race on a 2.5-mile racetrack.

And it’s the same thing we’ve been seeing on these racetracks in the new car since last year’s Daytona 500. With more two-lane racing, the more there’s battles for the lead.

At Talladega in 2021, there were 69 combined lead changes after both of the season’s races there with the old car.

With the Next Gen in 2022, there were 99.

Of course, this isn’t Talladega we’re talking about. It’s the Daytona 500 and that comes with its quirks. One of them is how every driver loses their minds in the last 10 laps.

In typical Daytona fashion, the whole field saw red in the closing laps of this race to ensue plenty of carnage. That gave it enough overtime attempts to make this 500 the longest one in history with an extra 12 laps. That’s an extra 30 miles.

It’s the same pattern that we’ve seen in almost every Great American Race since the Car of Tomorrow and that’s likely not going to change anytime soon.

Is that a good thing? Not unless you like that kind of stuff, but hey, at least they’re side-by-side for those other 190 laps.

Who stood out?

What is it going to take for Brad Keselowski to win the Daytona 500?

For 42 laps of Sunday’s 212-lap event, the co-owner of RFK Racing ran conductor of the stock car train.

That’s more laps led than anyone else on Sunday, including his teammate and employee Chris Buescher, who either ran second to his boss or drove right ahead of him, which was an action that had him lead 32 laps – the second most out of anyone.

However, within the remaining 10 laps of the originally scheduled 200-lap race, it was indeed the No. 6 of Keselowski at the point. Buescher followed.

Keselowski, who also led the most laps in last year’s Great American Race seemed to be once again on the verge of finally winning that elusive Daytona 500 victory.

Until five laps to go.

Behind the RFK duo were the two drivers of Richard Childress Racing Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon. The two Chevrolets broke their line behind Buescher and went to the high side. Buecher immediately lost momentum and Keselowski, while he had the opportunity to block the RCR cars, opted to stay low with his Texan compatriot.

It was a move he likely regrets now.

Afterward, the Michigan native was involved in not one but two different crashes that effectively ended any chance he had at earning his win. He was involved in the last race-ending crash that had him scored all the way back to 22nd. Buescher survived long enough to finish fourth and at least earn a top five for the organization.

While ending with an unfortunate result, both Keselowski and Buescher showed that RFK still has the strength on the superspeedways.

As for the rest of the schedule, that remains to be seen.

It would also be unfair to not mention the efforts of both Riley Herbst and Rick Ware Racing.

While it isn’t the first Cup top-10 result for RWR, it is the first for the NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Herbst. The No. 15 Sunny D Ford stayed in the show long enough to benefit from the attrition needed to be scored among the top-10 drivers as the yellow and checkered flags waved at the end.

For RWR, it’s their seventh ever top-10 finish. Six of those results also came at Daytona.

Who fell flat?

While Keselowski has attempted to win the Daytona 500 14 times, Busch has been in 18 attempts of the Great American Race.

Both drivers will have to wait at least another year to try to earn that elusive victory.

For all intents and purposes, Busch really was leading at the end of the 500-mile race.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t leading at the end of the 530-mile race.

Shortly after Busch took the lead from Keselowski, RCR teammate Dillon locked up behind the No. 8 Chevrolet and acted as tail-gunner for the two-time Cup champion.

Then, with only three laps to go, Daniel Suarez spun on the frontstretch.

With an overtime restart, RCR opted to have Dillon restart next to Busch and allow the No. 8 to slide into the line in front of him. From then on, they could stack up and defend long enough to the line. Dillon was planning to gift his new teammate a Daytona 500 victory.

However, the RCR cars have the same problem the RFK cars did.

There’s only two of them.

Busch and Dillon both were quickly freight-trained by eventual winner Stenhouse. Shortly after, the No. 3 found himself turned around in a crash that brought out the penultimate yellow flag.

Only Busch was left in the RCR camp and try he did.

With one last push from Bubba Wallace, Busch tried valiantly to pass Logano on the final lap. Alas, it ended with him spinning in the race-ending crash.

See also
Monday Morning Pit Box: Bubba Wallace, Kyle Busch Bounce Back

Better than last time?

With the Next Gen car, superspeedway racing has become what appears to be a battle of the two lanes. For about 190 laps in the 65th annual Daytona 500, that’s more or less what we saw.

Funny, we probably said something similar one year ago.

But hey, at least it’s not a single-file train.

While last year’s Great American Race featured its first inevitable multi-car crash on lap 42, we didn’t see one this year until 119. For you history buffs out there, that’s the longest a Daytona 500 has gone without a crash since 1998.

Which is great, because the racing for the lead was a heck of a sight.

In fact, with a whopping 52 lead changes, it was one of the most competitive Daytona 500s ever and certainly far and away from the 35 we saw one year ago.

Paint scheme of the race

NASCAR drivers have always had to work with sponsors in activation, but none have really gotten into it as much as Noah Gragson has over the last couple of years.

In his first full-time Cup Series season, not much has changed. Wendy’s partnered with the Las Vegas native for his second career Daytona 500 to be on board his No. 42 LEGACY MOTOR CLUB Chevrolet.

As usual, Gragson got really into it.

But that wasn’t all. On top of Wendy’s opening up their own small store within the Daytona infield, Wendy’s CMO Carl Loredo started throwing some shade to competitor Wallace’s No. 23 McDonald’s scheme.

23XI Racing President Steve Lauletta responded in kind.

Starting some beef – pun completely intended – on Twitter is a great way to do some sponsor exposure for an event, which is why Gragson’s was an excellent way to do just that.

In that case, Wallace’s No. 23 livery did feature just as much sponsor activation since the team responded.

But in honesty, Loredo did have a point. That No. 23 scheme is boring.

What’s next?

NASCAR goes out west. Again.

The NASCAR Cup Series will head to southern California for the second time in 2023, but this time it will visit the larger 2-mile Auto Club Speedway for the Pala Casino 400. It will be the last NASCAR race there before the circuit’s reconfiguration into a short track.

Qualifying will take place on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 2:50 p.m. ET. with the 200-lap feature being featured live on FOX on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Follow @PitLaneLT

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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kb

Well, Wrecky S. benefited greatly for NASCAR head up their butts to call a caution. Another manipulation that should have played out organically at the front of the field with all likelihood Wrecky running out of gas, or faltering. Well good thing is, he is a waste of space when the format of the playoffs come into play. And will be very surprised if he get’s a non-speedway win. What his last win was in 2016? He is very lucky for many years to have a job. This will be talked about as a miracle the way Trevor Bayne won because somebody was hooked to his bumper. He has ridden his 15 minutes for over a decade. Ricky sadly will too…with no other accomplishments. IMO.

Tom B

All true.
They say winning the Daytona 500 will change your life. How’s that working out for Derick Cope? It was nice to hear Mike Joy remind us that Dale Sr. Daytona 500 victory came under a yellow flag also. Some facts want to be forgotten about our race legends.

RCR8

May have been 52 lead changes, but I don’t consider one double train line surging over the other a lead change.

janice

so why did you have to say “black team owner”? why now former NBA player turned team owner? yes i know Brad’s race, and he’s a team owner and he’s won the daytona 500, a fact that is etched is the history books of the sport going forward. i was just happy his team won, as Brad is a good guy. kind of like how i felt all those years ago when ward burton won the 500 in 2002. stenhouse is usually one of the drivers that makes it to the front of the pack when they’re at plate tracks.

i know the team orders at rcr were probably for the 8 to win, but i really wonder how dillon would had followed them the 8 to victory. when they showed childress they they were leading, the look on his face spoke volumes, “we’ve been here before….”

gragson will be a good marketer for his sponsors. that hat during grid walk was crazy.

and daytona was typical last 10 lap mayhem. expensive carnage.

unfortunately i saw very little post-race on fox, as here in atlanta, they went to the masked show after the race. if they hadn’t had so much pre-race stuff and COMMERICALS they race could have ended sooner.

and so the season begins.

Carl D.

Nice recap, Dalton. I agree, the new car has made the races at Daytona better. As a Bad Brad fan, it was a disappointing ending to a great day of racing, but at least the racing was pretty good. And Hamlin didn’t win. But Ricky Stenhouse? No surprise there… when he’s still around at the end of a super-speedway race, he’s usually at or near the front.

Bill B

I’ve seen worse Daytona 500s, this one was OK. As mentioned above, at least there weren’t too many times where they were single file and the wrecks didn’t define the entire race (just the ending…. LOL).

Stenhouse ran a clean race for once. Usually, he’s so gung-ho that he causes a big one. I suppose it was his turn to win the lottery that is restrictor plate racing. No disrespect intended but, I already have my first pick for “drivers that won’t make it through the first round of the playoffs”.

I was really pulling for one of the guys at RFK to win. They seemed to have speed, patience and good execution all week.

BB

Daytona 500 is all hype. Quietly thought that for years when it became “our Super Bowl.” Don’t get me wrong, I love Daytona, been to dozens of races there, watched Foyt win by 1 lap. Went to tech school at ERAU, slept in my car in the infield.
NASCAR’s penchant for drama means the best car(s) may not win. So, a caution on the last lap was anti-climactic. Not much fun….

Last edited 1 year ago by BB
Christopher

Yet another boring race concluded by a wreckfest. Plate racing is a joke. Would be better off running special engine packages at the 5 races held with no restrictor, reduced horsepower. Anything would be better than the current, slot car-like disaster it is.

MikeinAz

Good old Daniel Suarez sure was a pain in Busch’s derriere during speedweeks this year.

DoninAjax

It took a New York second for the caution to come for the 99 spin (not needed) to get a GWC but it took a lot longer for the 8 spin. They waited as long as they could to try to get the car they wanted in front.

Kevin in SoCal

Or maybe they waited to see if they could let them race to the finish.

DoninAjax

Like they did for the 99 spin?

Bill B

nevermind…

Last edited 1 year ago by Bill B
Jeremy

I was in the garage working. Came in when I was done, turned on the TV and found the race was still on – set for the GWC. I watched half a lap before they all wrecked each other again. Went in to take a shower. Came back out and saw them interviewing Wrecky Spinhouse. Come here to read about the race, and it’s obvious I didn’t miss anything. Glad I spent my day wrenching in the garage instead of wasting it on this “race”.

Bill B

Damn dude. I would have put on MRN and listened to it while I worked in the garage. It could drone on in the background and you could listen to it with one ear. That would be a perfect way to follow the, um, “action” LOL..

Kurt Smith

I have said it a billion times, but restrictor plate racing (call it pack racing if you want, whatever) success has absolutely nothing to do with driver or even team skill. Winning means you were lucky enough to survive the unavoidable multiple car wrecks and were in the right place at the right time. Every driver knows this, including Stenhouse right now.

That is six races a year now, certainly enough to affect the outcome of the championship, and I fear NASCAR wants more of this given their endless affection for calamity and parity.

Take a look at the standings at the end of each season and compare that to the finishes at the pack racing tracks. The two couldn’t be more disparate.

If I were commissioner of NASCAR my very first act would be to lower the banking at these three tracks and do away with the plates. Well, maybe after I revised the point system to make consistency matter more than luck.

When everyone is going the same speed, it’s NOT RACING.

Bill B

Agree with you 100% Kurt, but….

Don’t hold your breath looking for NASCAR to make a change in their quest for parity through calamity. That’s what puts asses in the seats and ratings on TV. It’s sad to admit it but the races where the carnage is highest is what attracts a lot of casual fans that just want to see wrecks. Real race fans watch them because we watch every race, even the ones that are tedious with little to no passing and very little carnage. There always seems to be a bump in ratings at the pack racing tracks. That isn’t a coincidence.

Kurt Smith

That is why I fear there will be more of it. Obviously NASCAR isn’t afraid of losing (another) superstar to the calamitous wrecks…they even use them for highlight reels, except for the crash that killed a seven-time champion who had millions of dedicated fans. Nor does NASCAR seem to care about the best team winning more than they do about everyone having a chance to win.

If we get to a point where it’s eight or even 12 races a year at plate tracks, there won’t be any need for teams to hire great engineers or find great drivers, and we might as well have a whole field of Danicas and Michael Waltrips…drivers who are sponsor-friendly or have a popular last name as opposed to making their way through the ranks.

NASCAR will become the IROC series with this mentality, which as I obviously don’t need to point out, no longer exists. Their endless dedication to quick fixes for ratings and attendance is one of the biggest reasons they still aren’t even close to their 2003 numbers.

Last edited 1 year ago by Kurt Smith
Sb

That was was the Daytona 500 IROC race. Pathetic!!!!

DoninAjax

They’re using IROC cars in every “event” so the fans are entertained by what they are seeing, even though there hasn’t been an actual “race” for years..

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