DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — In order to win a superspeedway race at either Daytona or Talladega, you honestly first need to have some sort of drafting help. These days, the drafting help now comes from via your own manufacturer. Just look further on how this affects races than the ending of last year’s Daytona 500. It was a perfect storm per say.
Denny Hamlin had the car to beat in that race. He led a race-high 98 of 200 laps and well on his way to becoming the first three-peat champion in the races 63 year history.
Then the final pit sequence happened.
The Toyota’s hit pit lane last among the three manufacturers. It cost them.
The Fords were lined up and the Toyota’s couldn’t get formed quick enough to stay ahead.
Hamlin, had too big of a lead over teammate Kyle Busch and neither were close enough to use each other as drafting help. The Ford train was coming and blew right by them with 25 laps-to-go.
“We were too far out front (on the final pit stop),” Hamlin said then. “We got on-and-off pit road too good. I was just too far ahead of the pack.”
The pack would go single file and run at the top of the banking all the way around until a few to go. There wasn’t enough energy built up for the Chevrolet’s or Toyota’s to make any ground. They knew it would take a lot for them to break up the five Ford’s up front.
If you go to the bottom line, you need enough cars to build some energy. There just wasn’t enough.
“I figured the Chevys would make a move from two or three to go, because they are not going to win on the last lap from fifth or sixth,” Hamlin continued. “I was able to gain some positions. I think I was 12th and everybody was running single file, so it handcuffed me. I couldn’t really do anything. I hoped once I got to eighth as long as they make a move with two to go, I’m in the energy – in the area where I can make something happen. Dominant car, just a dominant car. Just one of those things that execute too good.”
How does this play into it? We know teammates will work together again as will manufacturers.
It happened in the Duels. The Chevys blinked first in the opening Duel. The Fords came a lap later. The Fords flipped ahead of them after.
If you have any sort of sloppiness during your pit stop, you honestly ruin it for the whole group. The larger the group of cars to draft with the more energy and speed you gain. By breaking a group up while another remained in form entering and exiting pit lane, well it doesn’t take a top engineer to know which group will cycle ahead.
So, with the ‘500 featuring several pits stops throughout the day, the ones who have the best efforts on and off pit road will be the ones who succeed the most in track position.
Part of this all is due to manufacturers and teammates working together almost exclusively on superspeedway’s now. These two are going to have moments where they’re working together.
Toyota started it in 2016, Ford perfected it there after and Chevrolet brought it to a head in the 2019 Daytona 500. What “it” is, is manufacturer alliances on superspeedway’s.
For the 2016 Daytona 500, the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota’s knew that they didn’t have strength in numbers compared to their car count vs. the Ford’s/Chevy’s, so they teamed up only with each other. It panned out for a 1-2 finish in the Daytona 500 that year.
After that race, Ford took notice and had their powerplant line up together and draft with one another during the four combined annual stops at Daytona and Talladega. Ford, already had good motors for these tracks, but throw in teamwork and you get domination in the form of 13 of the last 20 races won when using the restrictor plates.
They were in everyone’s head. So, for the 2019 Daytona 500, the Toyota’s knew that they didn’t have the numbers to contend for the win. Hendrick Motorsports, a Chevrolet team, knew that the other Chevy cars weren’t good enough to hang with them to challenge the Ford’s. So, we saw an unlikely tandem for the ‘500 – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Toyota’s and their alliance car at Leavine Family Racing and the Hendrick Motorsports’ Chevy’s.
Combined, that’s nine very good race cars that with even the smallest bit of help from any other Chevy team, could work together and break up the Ford party up front.
See, Ford’s knew that if they lined up in tow, go up to the high line and pull each other around the 2.5-mile track, it didn’t matter how many Chevy’s or Toyota’s lineup, no one could stop them.
So, HMS and the Toyota’s teamed up and ran up there with them, then would use the draft to take air off the Ford’s and break them apart.
Toyota finished 1-2-3 in the ‘500, Ford’s grew frustrated with one another and the Chevy teams were pissed that HMS sought out a late hour deal with a rival manufacturer.
In turn, Chevy had a closed door meeting afterwards and made sure that this didn’t happen again. Chevy teams could only work and draft with other Chevy teams. No more helping the competition.
Ford teams would still try and do the same. The Toyota’s? Well they were hung out to dry.
Chevy was the biggest beneficiary of this. HMS would finish 1-2 in the first race with the tapered spacer in April 2019 in Talladega including Chevy going 1-2-3 overall and taking five of the top six finishing positions.
In the July race at Daytona, Chevy went 1-2-3-4 this time.
But, in the second stop to Talladega in the Fall that year, the Ford’s found a way to get back to prominence. They’d lead 125 of the 188 laps run and take a 1-2 finish and four of the top five. Chevy, took spots 6-8-10.
In 2020 and Daytona last year was the same way. That’s why with what’s at stake, I think you immediately lineup with teammates and run single file up top for a while.
That also means you’re likely going to be battling a teammate for the win in the end too. How do you race a teammate in the end with the ultimate goal of wanting to win and doing everything in your power to do so, but your teammate could block you. It’s not like you can lift. That causes mayhem with the old package, but what about the changes now that were made.
So, if we’re in the same position again, Logano-Keselowski and they’re 1-2 in any order on the final lap, how does this play out where they don’t both wreck and one of them wins?
The final lap of the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 was a perfect storm. You had two teammates running 1-2. Both said just how badly that they wanted to get a Daytona 500 triumph — a second for Logano and a first for Keselowski.
How did two of the greats of the sport, teammates at that, wreck each other on the last lap while battling for the win? Before we get break down the last lap, you first have to next go back to what each said during their respective media days ahead of Speedweeks at that to set that scene.
“You typically go to Daytona and even Talladega expecting to crash,” said Keselowski. “The odds are more favorable for carnage than a win.”
That’s why the aggression really ramps up in the final laps. You have to. There’s too much at stake. That played a huge role into this.
“The only race that’s bigger than this is the championship race and that’s only for four cars,” said Logano during his availability last year. “This is the biggest race for 40 cars. Everyone is out there racing extremely hard towards the end of the race.
“The pushing and shoving becomes very aggressive which that has been consistent over the years but with the rules package change, especially with the spoiler on the back of it, we’ve seen over the past couple of years that the shoving has become really aggressive and the blocks have been harder to pull off successfully,” Logano continued. “The runs are bigger. That’s all a recipe for disaster for the end of these things. The key is to be up towards the front when it matters the most.
“At the end of the race, it’s kind of like the championship. No one remembers who finished second. No one knows who finishes second in the Daytona 500 last year. That’s just what this race is about.”
You have a hungry Keselowski. Remember, he said that if you’re there at the end, you have to go for it. With respects that you’re more likely to get caught up in a crash, if you have a shot to win in the closing laps, you have to be overly aggressive. Combine that with him needing this win, you get the perfect storm.
“I’m one crown jewel away from having them all which is really cool and special and means a lot to me personally,” Keselowski said on the same zoom call last month as Logano. “That’s definitely on that list to get Daytona to come together and not get wrecked.”
You have them saying and knowing this. They’re 1-2. One lap to go. 2 turns left. They each know that if they want to win, they have to be aggressive.
So, lets get into how the crash transpired. You have to go back to 2 laps-to-go as to the starting point.
Keselowski, backed up off Kevin Harvick’s bumper with two to go to get some drafting help from behind via McDowell. It’s a technique drivers use to make passes on superspeedway’s. It worked. Keselowski, was now in second. With the final lap coming and a Daytona 500 win in his grasps, he had to do the same move on his teammate in Logano.
Keselowski, let Logano, just like he did Harvick, get far out there off Turn 2 and was hoping to use a push by McDowell again to get him his first Daytona 500 triumph.
“I had a big run down the backstretch,” Keselowski said. “Went to make the pass to win the Daytona 500 and ended up really bad.”
McDowell, said that he was going to help Keselowski there until the crash occurred.
“My plan was to stick to (Keselowski),” McDowell said. “I knew he would go for a race-winning move and my plan was to let him make that move and then coming off of (Turn) 4 try to get to his outside or inside. I knew I didn’t want to make my move too early, so I was committed to (Keselowski’s) bumper and when he made the move, the hole opened up.
“It’s just unbelievable.”
Logano, said he saw the strategy Keselowski was going and he was doing it back. He didn’t want Keselowski to keep backing up, so he was doing it too.
“Once I saw Brad lay back and shuffle the 4 [Kevin Harvick] out, I said, ‘OK, this game’s about to change, this isn’t going the way I expected it to,’ and I knew things were going to be a little different and that’s what kind of developed into the last few laps,” Logano said. “Cars were laying back so much trying to form runs; I’m backing up trying to keep everyone tight behind and not get so far out because … you just know there is just so much energy being built up, everyone is going to be bumper to bumper. You saw that all come to fruition when we went down the back straightaway and everyone opened it up — you saw some cars go to the bottom, and that top lane had five cars pushing each other. There’s going to be a few runs coming at you that way.
“(Keselowski) kept trying to back up, trying to get a run. I was trying to back up to him to keep the runs from being too big and just, I guess he got to the back of (McDowell) and it ended up being a really big run coming at me and it seemed like we all just collided in one spot.”
Combine all three and you get what you saw — a last lap crash of a large magnitude.
The Monday morning quarterback says that Logano shouldn’t have blocked Keselowski’s move and just let the two run side-by-side to ensure a Penske driver wins the race. Logano felt like McDowell’s pushing of Keselowski was a big reason as to why they all crashed but there’s nothing either of them could have done differently at the time. It’s a 200 mph split second decision to win the Daytona 500. What are you supposed to do?
“I’m up in the mirror, I’m watching this all develop behind me, and when the 34 and the 2 hook up, they start coming at me with a run,” Logano explained. “I throw a mild block, but when Brad moves to the left to pass me, that gets the 34 off-center on his bumper, and these cars are very unstable when they’re getting pushed.”
All three said that they were in the perfect position for them heading to the checkered flag and that this was just speedway racing.
That’s why teammate and manufacturer support is interesting in the sense that you work with someone or a group of people all race but throw it all away over the final five miles.