Team Penske Dominates the Clash at Daytona
You've just finished practice for the Daytona 500 and really have nothing to do until qualifying starts for the Great American Race; so why not race? Originally called the Busch Clash, the exhibition race was the brain child of Busch Bavarian Beer brand manager Monty Roberts back in 1979. The invitation only event is now sponsored by Advance Auto Parts and is the first competitive event of the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup season. Although the race does not pay championship points, sponsors do offer a large cash purse. As all E3 race fans know, that's the perfect incentive to guarantee pedal-to-the-metal racing.
As a kickoff event for NASCAR Speedweeks, drivers qualify for the Advance Auto Parts Clash by winning a pole during the previous season; being a former Clash winner; being a former Daytona 500 pole winner who competed full-time the previous year; or being one of the drivers who qualified for the previous season's Chase. The current format is divided into two segments. After the initial 25 laps, NASCAR officials throw a caution flag allowing drivers to pit for fuel and inspect tire wear. After the restart, drivers compete all out for 50 laps.
Starting positions including the pole was determined by blind draw. Pole sitter Austin Dillon would share the front row with Denny Hamlin for the start of the first 25-lap session. Eventual winner Brad Keselowski started the day from the back of the seventeen-car field but methodically worked his way through the pack. The lead was shuffled during the mandatory caution. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jimmy Johnson would receive drive through penalties and Jamie McMurray brought out the first driver-induced caution after getting into the turn four wall.
Keselowski put his Penske Ford out front after the restart and paced the field for most of the remaining laps. Joey Logano ran in third behind teammates Keselowski and newcomer Ryan Blaney. When Blaney took his shot at the win, Logano got a last-lap push to second place from Kurt Busch. There was no doubt that Keselowski would be taking the Miller Lite Ford to victory lane with Team Penske taking first, second and fourth for the "Captain" in the opening event of 2018 NASCAR season.
Photo courtesy of dreamstime.com by Walter Arce.