Starting the 2021 NASCAR season with a new crew chief, a new pit crew and a new slate, Kyle Busch took advantage of a last-lap incident involving Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott to win the 43rd annual running of the Busch Clash at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course on Tuesday, February 9.
Busch, who was running in third place on the final lap and entering the final chicane prior to the straightaway for the finish line, benefitted from contact involving Elliott and Blaney, who spun, to overtake both and claim the first checkered flag of a new season of racing and the first Clash event held on Daytona’s road-course layout.
Twenty-one competitors competed in the event, all of whom met the eligibility requirements to participate: 2020 Cup pole winners, former winners of the Clash as a 2020 full-time competitor, former Daytona 500 champions as a 2020 full-time competitor, former Daytona 500 pole winners as a 2020 full-time competitor, 2020 Cup Playoff competitors, 2020 Cup race winners and 2020 Cup stage winners.
The starting lineup was based on a random draw on Monday, February 8. With that, Ryan Blaney started on pole position with Alex Bowman starting alongside him on the front row. Chase Elliott, the reigning Cup Series champion, started at the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Blaney jumped ahead with an early advantage on the inside lane. Behind, Tyler Reddick made a bold move on the outside lane through Turn 1 and nearly gained the lead before settling in fourth place behind Blaney, Bowman and Denny Hamlin.
Blaney continued to lead the field through the infield turns until Hamlin made his move and took the lead entering the superspeedway Turn 1. He was able to maintain his advantage through the rest of the superspeedway turns and the two chicanes to lead the first lap over Blaney, who had Bowman and Reddick challenging him for the runner-up spot.
Earlier through the bus stop/chicane on the backstretch, Logano ran over the curb on the backstretch bus stop chicane while battling teammate Keselowski as his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang briefly went airborne. Despite the incident, he continued on the track in the top 10.
By the second lap, Hamlin stretched his advantage to nearly two seconds over Blaney while Bowman continued to retain third place over Reddick and William Byron. Brad Keselowski was in sixth followed by Matt DiBenedetto, Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Cole Custer. By then, Chase Elliott moved up to 16th place.
The following lap, early trouble struck for Kevin Harvick, who spun through the backstretch chicane. He was able to continue without sustaining any damage, though he fell all the way below the 21-car field, as the race remained under green.
By the first five laps of the race, Hamlin and his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry continued to lead by more than a second over Blaney and his No. 12 Menards/Great Lakes Flooring Ford Mustang. Bowman remained in third place ahead of teammate Byron, Reddick and Keselowski. Behind, Kyle Busch was locked in a heated battle with Joey Logano and teammate Martin Truex Jr. for seventh while DiBenedetto slipped back to 10th. By then, Erik Jones was in 11th, Elliott was in 15th, Ty Dillon was in 17th and Harvick was in 21st.
Shortly after, DiBenedetto missed the frontstretch chicane and was forced to serve a stop-and-go penalty on the track. In addition, Kurt Busch and Logano made an early pit stop. During these events, Hamlin continued to lead the field.
The first caution of the race flew on the seventh lap due to mud reported across the bus stop chicane on the backstretch. Under caution, some competitors led by race leader Hamlin pitted while the rest led by Blaney remained on the track. Following the pit stops, Logano was assessed a penalty for having his crew members jumping over his pit wall too soon.
When the race restarted under green on Lap 10, Blaney jumped ahead again with the lead, but he overshot the first turn and lost a multitude of spots. With Blaney’s misfortune, Reddick jumped ahead with the lead. In addition, the field jumbled up as Harvick spun again in Turn 2.
At the front, Reddick continued to lead followed by Keselowski, Bowman, Buescher, Hamlin and Byron. By the time the field returned to the start/finish line, however, Keselowski drew himself alongside Reddick in a battle for the lead. In Turn 1, Reddick went wide, which allowed Keselowski to assume the lead. In addition, Hamlin moved up to second followed by teammate Martin Truex Jr. as Reddick fell back to fourth. Meanwhile, Harvick pitted following his second on-track incident.
By Lap 12, the battle for the lead heated up between Hamlin and Keselowski while Truex joined the battle. Following a lengthy battle through the infield turns, Hamlin prevailed entering the superspeedway Turn 1. Truex also overtook Keselowski for second as he went to work on teammate Hamlin for the lead. Trailing the top-three competitors by nearly three seconds was Reddick while Elliott overtook Erik Jones and cracked the top five.
The following lap, Hamlin got loose entering the bus stop and Truex took advantage of his teammate’s slip to take the lead. Shortly after, names like Reddick, Jones, Bowman and Logano pitted. Following the pit stops under green, however, Bowman was black-flagged due to speeding on pit road.
By the time the field completed Lap 15 and with Truex still leading, names like Elliott, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Blaney and Harvick also pitted. Not long after, the competition caution flew.
Just as the caution flew, trouble struck for the leader Truex, who missed the frontstretch chicane and was tagged with a penalty to restart at the rear of the 21-car field. Under caution, the entire field pitted for adjustments and fuel. Following the pit stops, Kurt Busch assumed the race lead with a two-tire pit stop. Austin Dillon moved up to second place after electing for no tires while Hamlin exited in third place and as the first car on four fresh tires. Keselowski, Blaney, Logano, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Cole Custer and Chris Buescher exited from pit road in the top 10.
With 17 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the front, Kurt Busch jumped ahead with the lead until he overshot the first turn. With Busch falling all the way to the back of the field after overshooting the track, Hamlin reassumed the lead followed by Blaney, Logano, Austin Dillon and Kyle Busch.
With 15 laps remaining, Hamlin continued to lead by less than a second over Blaney while teammate Logano was situated in third place. Kyle Busch was in fourth ahead of Austin Dillon and Custer while Keselowski, Buescher, Jones and Reddick were in the top 10. Truex, meanwhile, was in 11th while teammates Byron, Bowman and Elliott were in 13th, 14th and 15th. Harvick was in 18th while Kurt Busch was still back in 21st. By then, the bumping and on-track battling started to ensue around every turn of the track.
The following lap, the caution returned when Custer, who missed the frontstretch chicane and was set to serve a stop and go penalty, stalled his No. 41 Haas Ford Mustang near the chicane. Soon after, fire and smoke started to come out of Custer’s car as the safety workers arrived for assistance.
Under caution, some like Blaney, Logano, Byron, Bowman, Elliott, Newman, Kurt Busch, Reddick, Buescher, Harvick and Aric Almirola pitted while the rest led by Hamlin remained on the track.
A lap prior to the restart, the left-rear tire of Byron’s No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE shredded, which forced him to make another pit stop for a new tire. In addition, Logano was forced to drop to the rear of the field for not entering pit road in a single file earlier.
With 11 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the front, Hamlin jumped ahead with the lead and he was able to retain it through the first two turns while the field behind fanned out to three lanes. Behind, Truex, who smoked his front tires entering the first turn, made his way through Austin Dillon for the runner-up spot as Kyle Busch also moved up the leaderboard. Behind, Blaney, who used the outside lane at the start to his advantage and gain a bevy of spots, challenged Dillon for fourth.
The following lap, Hamlin retained the lead by three-tenths of a second over teammate Truex as Kyle Busch settled in third. Blaney was in fourth, but closing in on Busch’s No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for more. Austin Dillon was in fifth followed by Elliott, Keselowski, DiBenedetto, Bowman and Reddick.
Two laps later, the battle for the lead heated up as Truex drew himself alongside Hamlin through the infield turns. Truex was able to pull off a crossover move and grab the lead exiting the infield turns and entering the superspeedway turns. His race, however, went away through the bus stop/backstretch chicane when he ran over the mud, got loose, spun and made hard contact against the outside wall in Turn 10.
With Truex out of the race following his accident, Blaney emerged with the lead followed by Hamlin, Elliott, Kyle Busch and Bowman. Under caution, however, Blaney and Hamlin led a number of competitors down pit road while Elliott, Kurt Busch, Logano, Reddick, Buescher and Aric Almirola remained on the track. This moved Elliott into the lead.
With five laps remaining, the race restarted. At the start, Elliott pulled away with the lead and he retained it through the first turn. Behind, Kurt Busch went wide again and lost a bevy of spots. Meanwhile, Logano moved into the runner-up spot followed by Buescher, Blaney, Reddick and Kyle Busch.
When the field returned to the start/finish line, Elliott remained at the front of the pack by less than a second over Logano with a hard-charging Blaney closing in. Through the bus stop/backstretch chicane, Keselowski, who was in eighth, spun in front of Byron. In addition, Reddick got into Buescher as Buescher spun through the chicane and clipped Bowman before coming to rest on the track. Despite the incidents, the race remained under green.
At the front, Blaney, racing on fresh tires, closed in on Elliott for the lead through the infield turns, the superspeedway turns and the bus stop/backstretch chicane. With two laps remaining, Blaney made a move beneath Elliott through the dogleg turn as he took the lead, though Elliott kept Blaney in his sights.
When the final lap of the exhibition event started, Blaney was still ahead by nearly half a second over Elliott. Through the infield turns, the superspeedway turns and the backstretch chicane, Blaney continued to retain the top spot while Elliott continued to close in.
Then entering the frontstretch chicane, Elliott made a move beneath Blaney in a bid for the win. Hen then made contact with Blaney as Blaney spun through the chicane. Following the contact, Kyle Busch, who was trailing the two leaders, made his way through the incident and overtook Elliott to win and grab the checkered flag by nearly eight-tenths of a second.
The victory was Busch’s second in the Clash as he recorded the 10th Clash win for Joe Gibbs Racing and the sixth for the Toyota nameplate. In addition, Busch achieved his first victory with new crew chief Ben Beshore.
“I just knew to keep my head down, keep focused ahead and just seeing if I could hit my marks and get close enough to have a shot like that if something like that were to materialize,” Busch said on FS1. “Fortunately, it did for us. I can’t say enough about [crew chief] Ben Beshore and this whole M&M’s team, everybody over the off season. A new M&M’s team…It’s awesome to start off the year with a win. Non-points win, but we’d love nothing more than to be right here this Sunday.”
Elliott limped across the finish line in second place while Blaney fell all the way back to 13th place. Following the race, both competitors met on pit road for a post-race discussion.
“Neither one of us won, that’s the big one,” Elliott said on FS1. “I was close enough to drive it in there. I feel like I’d be mad at myself for not, at least, trying. Obviously, I don’t mean to wreck anybody, especially [Blaney]. Some guys, I wouldn’t mind, but he’s not one of them. Hopefully, he’s not too mad at me. I feel like you got to go for it here at an event like this in a situation. I can’t be sorry about going for the win, but certainly didn’t mean to wreck him. [I] Drove it in there. That corner gets so tight. I didn’t want to just completely jump the curb to the right, but I felt like I tried to get over there as far as I could to it and that point, we were coming together at the same time…We’ll try again Sunday.”
“I hate it happened too,” Blaney added. “It didn’t work out for either of us. We were just racing hard. I had a little bit fresher tires there…I tried to protect and I drove into the last corner really deep to try to make sure I didn’t dive-bombed like that. We just came together there. What are you gonna do?”
Logano finished in third place followed by Reddick and Byron. Hamlin, Bowman, Jones, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and DiBenedetto rounded out the top 10.
There were 13 lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured four cautions for eight laps.
1. Kyle Busch, one lap led
2. Chase Elliott, four laps led
3. Joey Logano
4. Tyler Reddick, one lap led
5. William Byron
6. Denny Hamlin, 21 laps led
7. Alex Bowman
8. Erik Jones
9. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
10. Matt DiBenedetto
11. Austin Dillon
12. Aric Almirola
13. Ryan Blaney, five laps led
14. Ryan Newman
15. Kevin Harvick
16. Chris Buescher
17. Brad Keselowski, one lap led
18. Ty Dillon
19. Kurt Busch, one lap led
20. Cole Custer, three laps down
21. Martin Truex Jr. – OUT, Accident, two laps led
The NASCAR Cup Series will return the following day, February 10, for the Daytona 500 pole position qualifying session, which will occur at 7 p.m. ET on FS1, followed by the Bluegreen Vacations Duel races at Daytona on Thursday, February 11, which will also commence at 7 p.m. ET on FS1. All of this will lead up to the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 scheduled on Sunday, February 14, at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.