The 59th running of the Daytona 500, with first-time winner, Kurt Busch, included eight cautions for 40 laps and saw only 15 drivers complete all 200 laps. Was this typical restrictor-plate racing or a result of the new race format that NASCAR implemented this season?
Steve O’Donnell, executive vice president and chief racing development officer for NASCAR, shared his thoughts on the new format which features stages and addressed the multiple accidents and the five-minute clock which limits the amount of time a team has to make repairs.
His first impression of the race was, “I’d say, overall really pleased.” He added, “We saw a lot of great, hard racing. Everybody knows that every driver wants to win the Daytona 500. We saw drivers up on the wheel all day long racing hard and that’s exactly what we expected from the format.”
When asked about the reason for the number of wrecks that plagued all three series this weekend at Daytona International Speedway, his answer was simple.
“I think people wanted to win,” he said.
O’Donnell continued, “People want to win (when they) hit Daytona. We wanted drivers racing up front, racing hard for wins. That’s what we expected. In terms of good, hard racing, that’s what you saw all three days.”
He also thought that the five-minute clock worked well.
“Obviously that’s going to be a work in progress as we go”, he explained. “It was NASCAR working with the race teams. When you look at the positives of that, no one exceeded that clock on pit road. The winner of the race was part of that policy. So, if you look at a car going beyond five minutes, usually their day’s done anyway. If we had a line of teams here saying we’ve got to do something we would, but we didn’t have one of them. They all knew that their day was done. It’s unfortunate. But that’s Daytona; it’s a tough place to race.”
O’Donnell went on to discuss the complexities of restrictor-plate racing at Daytona and said that Atlanta Motor Speedway would essentially be their “first experience with the new rules package.”
“I think Daytona brings out, you never know what’s going to happen. If you make a mistake here, it’s usually a pretty tough one and it’s a pretty tough day. But,” he maintained, “the stages did produce strong racing.”
He pointed to another favorable aspect of the race at Daytona, stating, “It also gave some drivers who competed in those first stages who normally would have gone home with one or two points; they were rewarded for running up front early.”
Several drivers also weighed in on their experience with the revised race format, characterizing the race as “wild,” “the extreme of the Daytona 500,” “aggressive” and “fun.”
Ryan Blaney, who finished second in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, said, “It was one of the more wild 500s I’ve been in, a lot of wrecks that took out a bunch of good cars, which you hate to see. There were only a handful of cars out there that looked OK at the end.”
AJ Allmendinger, driver of the No. 47 Kroger Clicklist Chevrolet for JTG Daugherty Racing, who finished in third place, shared his perspective.
“I mean, I think Daytona and Talladega are going to be extreme,” he said, “because, you know, it comes down to trying to get your track position. You see people lay back. Now with the stages, there’s points on the line. I think Daytona is the most amped up. It kind of changes how people race.
“To me, I don’t think any of the other 32 races that we’re going to go to, we’re all driving as hard as we can every lap anyway. Yeah, you get a caution with eight to go before the stage ends, there’s going to be strategy. Maybe guys on old tires and that might make some difference when it comes to the stages. I think it’s the extreme of the Daytona 500 and these plate races, the way we have to race. Now with stages, with points being on the line, things are going to happen like that.”
Jimmie Johnson’s race ended on lap 128 in a 17-car accident. He summed it up, saying, “Just a lot of aggression way too early, in my opinion.” His No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy finished in 34th place.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. who led eight laps in his No. 88 HMS Chevrolet before he was caught up in a wreck and only completed 106 laps and finished 37th, had a different viewpoint.
“I really enjoyed the whole week; we had a lot of fun. Everybody’s support, to get back to the racetrack, meant a lot to me. Sorry, we weren’t able to deliver a better result today for all our fans.” He concluded by saying, “At least we went out leading the race.”
While opinions vary, restrictor-plate racing is known for its volatile nature. The true test of the new format may be the upcoming Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway next week.
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