Race Weekend Central

The Big 6: Questions Answered After William Byron Brings Out the Fireworks in Daytona

Who… should you be talking about after the race?

William Byron will be the talk of the town this week after capturing his first Daytona 500 win. Byron was in the right place at the right time. After triggering an 18-car pileup with eight laps to go, he avoided getting caught up in it. Byron steered clear of another incident coming to the white flag and just managed to cross the start/finish line before the caution lights came on, making the race official.

Also in the conversation, though, is that each of Byron’s two wins at Daytona International Speedway have come after first triggering a multi-car crash. Byron got his first career NASCAR Cup Series win in the 2020 regular season finale. That incident cemented Byron’s playoff spot, but it came at the expense of teammate Jimmie Johnson, who was caught in the crash Byron touched off. This time, he didn’t have to contend with the best cars in the field in the closing laps because they were eliminated. Eventually, Byron’s superspeedway racing will catch up with him, and he’ll have a hard time finding drafting partners.

And don’t forget Christopher Bell. Bell drove a smart, calculated race, avoiding the late trouble and working his way into the conversation in the closing laps after leading 22 laps earlier in the day. Bell won his Bluegreen Vacation Duel race on Thursday night (Feb. 15), hinting that he’d be a contender, and capped it off with his third-place finish in the 500. 

Bell is a driver to watch this year — he still needs to find a little consistency, but if he can find it, he’ll be in the title conversation. 

See also
From Big One to Big Win: William Byron Reflects On Daytona Triumph

What… is the big question leaving this race in the rearview?

Denny Hamlin ran the kind of Daytona 500 a veteran winner runs, moving through the field when the laps began to tick down to be at the front. Hamlin was caught in a crash not of his doing, but is 2024 — at last — Hamlin’s year?

Hamlin kicked off the year by winning the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum and was in a position to contend for the first big points payout of the year until his early exit. 

Hamlin had a confidence in 2023 that he hadn’t shown much of in previous years, but once again fell apart in the playoffs.

Hamlin can and should be a title contender. He’s good enough but has never seemed to be able to get out of his own head deep in the playoffs to close the deal. He can beat the field … if he can beat himself. How he handles disappointments like Sunday will go a long way in how he handles a title run.

Where… did the other key players wind up? 

Pole winner Joey Logano led the most laps he’s ever led in a Daytona 500 and was in a great position for another Harley J. Earl trophy when the field came to 10 to go. All hell broke loose as Byron hesitated between lanes and turned Brad Keselowski, sweeping up Logano and ending his hopes. This race has always been feast or famine for Logano, but he fell short of a seat at the table this time, finishing 32nd.

Defending race winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hung around the top 10 during the long runs and made some noise late in the race, working his way to the front. But like Logano, his day ended eight laps shy in the 18-car pileup triggered by Byron, with a 31st-place finish.

Cup champion Ryan Blaney started the day in a backup car after taking a brutal hit in a late crash in his qualifying race. After leading laps in stage one, Blaney won stage two and was running with the leaders when The Big One came. Blaney goes home credited with 30th.

Newly-minted Hall of Famer Jimmie Johnson showed speed in his qualifier only to get caught up in an early crash and barely squeeze his way into the field. Still, he showed in that race that he has not lost a step in the cockpit and looked like he could even contend as a dark horse for a third Daytona 500 victory. But his bad luck streak continued on Monday as Johnson was collateral damage in the lap 6 crash triggered by none other than employee and teammate John Hunter Nemechek. The No. 48 team made repairs and Johnson was able to continue, but was two laps down when he rolled back on track and lost a couple more as his wounded car couldn’t keep up with the pack. Johnson benefitted from the late crash, though, and wound up 28th as he avoided that one.

When… was the moment of truth?

It’s impossible to talk about the finish without addressing the elephant in the room: NASCAR was very late throwing the caution after Ross Chastain and Austin Cindric spun coming to the white. Had the yellow flown the moment the cars turned, as has been pretty standard in superspeedway races, Byron would not have taken the white flag before the caution, forcing a restart.

So why the delay then? Wanting to let them race for the win is understandable, but if throwing the yellow flag as soon as the crash starts is a safety measure, that’s pretty flimsy.

Byron’s win was also a big storyline because it came on the 40th anniversary of Hendrick Motorsports’ first Daytona 500. Holding the yellow made it look like NASCAR was blinded by the story, and while that’s (probably, hopefully) not the case, perception is everything. 

NASCAR probably should have gone with consistency and thrown the flag immediately. That does create issues because it sets up another crash on the overtime laps. However, what might happen isn’t a great reason to call one caution differently from the others.

See also
Spin Through Grass Foils Daytona 500 Dreams for Ross Chastain, Austin Cindric

Why… should you be paying attention this week?

This is where the real grind starts. Where the Daytona 500 is its own animal with teams willing to do whatever it takes to win and often paying the price, from here on out their eyes are already turning to the big picture. It’s a half year until the playoffs begin, but they’re already on the minds of race teams, and that will show in teams’ strategies. 

Atlanta Motor Speedway moves up to second on this year’s docket. Atlanta is part superspeedway, part intermediate, and as drivers have gotten used to the reconfiguration, the racing has been decent, with fewer big crashes despite some tight racing. Who to watch? Keep an eye on Blaney, who’s got a win and a killer 7.3 average finish in the last six races.

How… come everyone’s using crashes to promote this race?

That’s a good question. People like to say they don’t watch for the wrecks, but watch advertising for a race at Daytona or Talladega Superspeedway and the highlight reels are full of wild multicar crashes and cars going airborne.

It’s a real shame because not only are NASCAR and the networks glorifying the prospect of a driver getting hurt (or worse), but they’re ignoring what has made some of the races at these tracks exciting — the hard battles and close finishes. Those should be the focus of the advertising, not the inevitable crashes that NASCAR has created and nurtured through its superspeedway package.

That’s not what it’s all about, so it’s time to stop pretending it is.

About the author

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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kb

Joey has ONE FEAST and many famines. He lost a lot more, so close he could taste it than won. He was the dominate car this weekend and then this clown who caused the BIG ONE, while Logano was well on his way to win 2…gets the win……I dunno, tasteless and BS. But that is the law of the land with this format. Always at the end, amateur hour it looks like.

Shayne

What’s up with the booth’s fascination with the term “manufacturer(s)”? I didn’t count how many times, but it was repeated over and over. We’d still be drinking shots if it was the “take a shot” word.

RCFX1

Energy. Energy. Energy…. I thought that was Jeff Burton’s big thing.

Jeremy

Why are we promoting crashes for this race? Because Americans love chaos and destruction, thus we love demolition derbies!

I think NA$CAR should implement a new rule: The car that races Daytona/Talladega must be raced the following week.

Kj

How are you going to put the big one on
Byron? Bowman had him all out of shape…

RCFX1

I’m still waiting for the green/white/checker. The caution lights were on before they crossed the stripe. It probably would have still been Byron, but the rules are the rules. If the caution ends the race, Chastain was second. If the last timing loop is the results. Look at the picture in the article. Chastain would have been second. I think they just wanted it over because the Xfinity race was coming up.

sdelfin

Not based on the video. Caution lights did not come on until after they crossed the finish line and it wasn’t especially close. Also, for finishes, they determine running order at the time of caution. Chastain was not second. Plus, he was in the wreck so that would make no sense.

Bill B

I have to say I never saw a definitive video of exactly where the S/F line was in regard to the accident with view of a track light that indicated green or yellow.
However I was really glad there wasn’t a GWC restart just because there would have probably been 3 more before the race had ended.
I am one of those fans that think it’s more appropriate to let the yellow flag end a race and reward those that earned their finish based on where they were running at the caution, then restack everyone back up and let the ending be a total cluster, crap shoot rewarding those that got lucky on the restart.

Richard

Byron should have been disqualified after taking out half the field not given the win but Hendricks owns Nascar

Brian

NASCAR cowtows to Rick Hendrick and Jeffy Boy Gordon so no surprise that if a Henrick car was in front the caution would be thrown after the car 5,9,24,48, does not matter which to win. NASCAR has been in Chevy’s pocket for decades. For once I wish NASCAR could be consistent. Throws a caution at times for a car almost spinning out but does not. Does not throw a caution with cars actually spinning until the accident is pretty much over already.
Fans want consistency or at minimum fairness.

janice

so according to the article the 48 team was pitting the 84? there was a point last night where john hunter should had been black flagged, it seemed like every on track infraction he was involved somehow.

i figured bowman or byron would win if elliott couln’t get close enough. just how it goes.

again nascar and their lack of consistency. guess it’s whoever sends them the biggest check the week prior to a race.

DoninAjax

Any chance of snow at Atlanta on Sunday?

janice

not yet! cool mornings and fri/sat in 60’s and sunday maybe in 70’s. clear and sunny.

DoninAjax

Thanks! It’s too bad since that would show the lunacy of another of the decisions of Emperor Brian’s sycophants or toadies or ass-lickers which would explain their brown lips. I feel another Rockingham in the works.

Last edited 1 month ago by DoninAjax
janice

one year at the spring race several years ago I was at track in snow.

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