The Busch Clash was as advertised. More on that in a bit. But, Kyle Busch led a grand total of one lap on Tuesday night and it was the one that mattered the most – the final one. Busch, scored his first win with new crew chief Ben Beshore as he took his No. 18 Toyota to victory lane for the second time in the Clash. The other came back in 2012 when he only led three laps that year.
In fact, Busch becomes just the seventh driver to lead just one lap in a Clash win joining Rusty Wallace (1998), Neil Bonnett (1983, 1984), Dale Earnhardt (1980), Dale Jarrett (2000, 2004), Kevin Harvick (2009) and Erik Jones (2020).
This win though came in dramatic fashion.
Before we come to the end, you have to rewind back to Lap 21 to how this ending was shaped. Ryan Blaney pit under that caution to take on four fresh Goodyear tires. He’d restart the race in 10th. By time we got through the first couple of corner, Blaney was all the way up to fifth. By time we got to the Bus Stop, he was in fourth.
On Lap 27, he passed Denny Hamlin for second. Hamlin, was also just passed by Martin Truex Jr. for the lead too. Then, Truex crashed in the Bus Stop and saw his night end as a result. Truex, by far had the quickest car of the night as he came from the back to the front on multiple occasions.
This mistake cost one of the better cars.
Blaney, inherited the lead and had the freshest tires in the field. Fresh tires and track position would matter. That’s why he hit pit lane under that caution for Truex on Lap 29. He knew everyone else would likely pit too.
He was right. 14 cars hit pit lane under that caution. Only Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher and Aric Almirola stayed out.
On the ensuing restart, Blaney charged. He moved up to third with four to go. A lap later, he was up to second. Two laps later, the lead was inches. In the infield portion, Blaney passed Elliott with two laps remaining.
Elliott though, didn’t go away.
He stayed close through the white flag and made a deep run through the bus stop to get to Blaney’s bumper. Blaney looked to have this won though when he pulled away a bit through oval Turns 3-4, but Elliott made one more charge in the chicane. Elliott, tried to force his way by his good friend but in turn, both got into one another.
That contact between the duo allowed Busch to skate by and cruise to his Joe Gibbs Racing’s second straight Clash victory and fifth since 2014.
“I just knew to keep my head down and keep focused ahead and just seeing if I could hit my marks to see if I could get close enough to have a shot like that if something like that were to materialize,” said Busch.
In terms of Elliott and Blaney, Elliott took full responsibility for what happened.
“That’s just my bad,” Elliott said. “I tried to get that across. Obviously he’s frustrated and he should be, but unfortunately I can’t do anything about it now.”
Blaney, said that he understood Elliott’s move and that if he could have done anything differently it would be to protect a little bit better.
“Just block a different way so he couldn’t have gotten to a certain point beside my car,” Blaney said.
Both drivers are competitors though and said that the move had to be made by either. You have to try to win the race and worry about feelings, friends or not, later.
“I know he’s going to make the big move,” Blaney said. “Any competitor would. If you’re not trying to win the race, what are you there for? We’re just as hard of competitors as we are good friends. Obviously I’m not happy with him.”
“If I’m sorry about trying to win the race, I’m in the wrong business,” the defending Cup Series champion said.
Elliott, was able to regain his momentum to bring his No. 9 Chevrolet home runner-up. It was his first top five in five tries in this All-Star race. Elliott, had to start last on Tuesday night after his team made unapproved adjustments before the race even began. He didn’t stay back there long. Elliott, was in the top five on Lap 13 and used strategy to get the lead on Lap 30.
Joey Logano finished third in his No. 22 Ford for his ninth straight Clash top 10 finish including seven of which resulting in a top three.
Tyler Reddick was fourth in his No. 8 Chevrolet while William Byron rounded out the top five in his No. 24 Chevrolet.
Here are my main takeaways from this year’s Busch Clash.
Road Course Layout May Now Be Here To Stay
I’ll fully admit, I was skeptical when they first announced the move that the Busch Clash would transfer from the oval to the 3.61 mile road course for 2021. This alternation to the race had nothing to do with COVID either. This was announced prior to the pandemic.
But, with the new car being delayed until 2022 and how the impromptu race looked on this same course last August, I was even more worried that this race would become a flop. Now that the 35 lap race is behind us, I’ll eat crow.
This race gave us everything that we could have wanted. It was thrilling from the drop of the green flag until the checkered flag dropped on Kyle Busch’s race winning M&M’s Toyota. In all reality, this year’s Clash was better than what we’ve seen the last several years when this race took place on the oval.
Just look at the last couple of years as an example. The Busch Clash was turning into an embarrassment. 20 cars started in each of the last two years. 17 of the 20 crashed in 2019 and all 20 cars had damage last year.
It turned into a demolition derby to where teams were bringing throw away cars with the assumption that the Clash car was going to be scrapped in the end.
80-percent of the race was run single file. The final 20 percent was yellow after yellow after yellow for everyone crashing. It wasn’t fun.
This year’s race on the road course was the exact opposite. We had strategy calls, chaos, mishaps and a thrilling edge of your seat finish without the aesthetics that these drivers forgot how to drive in the end like for what has happened on the oval.
Literally, from Lap 9 through Lap 19, we had a lead change in almost every lap. There were eight lead changes in a 10 lap span including six straight laps with a new leader.
What likely contributed to this though was the lower downforce package. Last year on the road course, it was the high downforce lower horsepower package. This year, they went the opposite way and it definitely helped.
“The package was way, way better,” third place finisher Joey Logano said. “I was able to stay behind cars better. I think that was definitely a gain. The draft on the straightaway was any less either.”
The race had as many lead changes in 35 laps for the Clash as they did for 65 laps in last year’s points paying race last August.
“When you have races like this, it lends itself a lot more to the driver, car and setup,” Kyle Busch said. “As you saw, there were comers and goers with tire strategies. With Daytona oval, it’s anyone’s race.”
If the road course race next week is anything like Tuesday night, we’re in for a treat. They’re going to make it hard for NASCAR not to add the road course as a points paying race for 2022. For the short term, I do believe that the future of the Clash is on the road course now.
Bus Stop Turned Into A Dirt Track
The Bus Stop was the trickiest part of the 3.61 mile track on Tuesday. That’s because so many drivers were clipping the grass through it and throwing dirt back up onto the racing surface. It made that portion extremely slick as well as each cars’ windshields.
Kevin Harvick was the first casualty there on Lap 3. We saw a caution to clean up that area on Lap 7. Martin Truex Jr. lost control of his car in that same spot on Lap 27 while leading.
The only fix to the track would be to this area but a lot of that was by design by the drivers to throw dirt up on the track to make it slick for the cars behind them and slow them down.
Turn 1 On Restarts Was Treacherous For Leaders
Turn 1 was a rough spot as well for the race leaders. Ryan Blaney overcooked it into the corner the Lap 10 restart. Kurt Busch did the same on the Lap 18 restart. He went so deep, I feel like he should still be coming back East on I-4 at the moment.
Turn 1 was a treacherous spot for the race leaders and it made it fun for all of us to witness.
Interesting Night For Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. started near the back on Tuesday night. He had a hot rod though in his No. 19 Toyota. Truex, charged hard and found the front early on. By Lap 14, he was in the lead. In fact, he was shown as the leader during the competition caution on Lap 15. Unfortunately, that’s where he first made a mistake. Truex, forgot to go down the chicane on the front stretch and was penalized.
He’d have to restart in the back. He didn’t stay there long.
Truex, charged through the field again and was challenging Denny Hamlin for the lead on Lap 26. He passed him one lap later. Then, he crashed in the Bus Stop and would finish last in the 21 car field. His last six Clash finishes are now – 13th, 15th, 14th, 15th, 15th and 21st respectively.
“I just overshot the bus stop a little bit and hit that mud that was there,” Truex said. “It was worse than the laps before, so just caught me off guard. I actually slowed down from the lap before going through there and once it got in the bus stop, it turned back to the right. It was gone.”
Logano A Clash Master, How He Overcame An Overheating Issue To Finish In The Top 5 Again
Joey Logano may have just one Clash win in 13 tries now. But, he’s among the best in terms of average finishing position. Logano, finished third on Tuesday night for his seventh top five result and 10th top 10 in 13 starts. He was third in 2013, fourth in 2014, sixth in 2015, second in 2016, won in 2017, second in 2018, third in 2019, ninth in 2020 and now third again this year.
He had overheating issues early and had to pit on Lap 6. He went from the top 10 to the back. That was the race changing decision for them because they pit again on Lap 14, got fuel on the competition caution (Lap 16) and was one of six cars to stay out of the pit during the final caution to get another top five.
Byron Goes From Flat Tire To Top 5
Right before we were going to go back to green with 13 laps remaining in the Busch Clash, William Byron’s left rear tire was gone. It prompted NASCAR to keep the yellow out for an extra lap. Byron, pit and came back out on the track at the rear of the field.
12 laps later, he finished fifth.
It was a wild final 12 laps for the Hendrick Motorsports driver as he had fresher tires than anyone and it paid off for his first top 10 in two Clash tries.
- Since 2005, only Richard Childress Racing (2009, 2010, 2013), Hendrick Motorsports (2005, 2008, 2019), Team Penske (2011, 2017, 2018) and Joe Gibbs Racing (2007, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2020, 2021) have won the Busch Clash. That’s 16 straight years. The last non driver of this bunch to win was Dale Jarrett in 2004.
- The starting positions for the race winners lately have been eye opening. 6 of the last 7 winners have come from 12th on back. Kyle Busch rolled off 16th on Tuesday night. Since 2015, the eventual race winners all started – 16th, 15th, 9th, 17th, 13th, 12th and 16th respectively.
- Kyle Busch became the 11th multi-time Busch Clash winner joining Dale Earnhardt (6), Dale Jarrett (3), Tony Stewart (3), Kevin Harvick (3), Denny Hamlin (3), Neil Bonnett (2), Ken Schrader (2), Jeff Gordon (2), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2) and Jimmie Johnson (2).
- Only five times has the Clash winner gone on to win the Daytona 500 pole (Buddy Baker 1979, Bill Elliott 1987, Ken Schrader 1989/1990, Dale Jarrett 2000).
- Only six times has the Clash winner gone on to win the Daytona 500 (Bobby Allison 1982, Bill Elliott 1987, Dale Jarrett 1996/2000, Jeff Gordon 1997, Denny Hamlin 2016).
- Only seven drivers have won the Clash and the championship in the same season – Dale Earnahrdt (1980, 1986, 1991, 1993), Darrell Waltrip (1981), Jeff Gordon (1997), Tony Stewart (2002).