After being sidelined on Saturday night for rain, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series cars roared to life on Sunday morning for the Advance Auto Parts Clash. In a chaotic final lap, Joey Logano was able to hang on for his first Clash victory.
The race was split into two segments of 25 and 50 laps. In addition to continuing a 15-year trend of having predetermined segments, it served as a trial for the new stage format introduced for all national series races in 2017.
On the start, Chris Buescher lost the draft and began to fall. At the front of the field, pole-sitter Brad Keselowski led the first six laps before Denny Hamlin passed him. Keselowski retook the lead on lap 10; Logano later passed Hamlin for 2nd to establish a Team Penske 1–2. On lap 18, Kurt Busch was clipped by Jimmie Johnson in turn 4 and sent into the inside wall, bringing out the first caution of the day.
With 25 laps to go, Johnson was involved in the second race-related caution when he spun in turn 4. Johnson, who officially finished , has struggled in the Clash in recent years; he has not finished a Clash race since 2011. During an interview, Johnson stated it was “bizarre” how he and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates had suffered from aerodynamic issues during the day
“It’s weird, I’ve made a living out of a loose race car and have it bite me this afternoon and unfortunately take the 41 out,” he commented. “I’m disappointed in myself and our situation for that.”
The green returned with 22 laps to go as Hamlin, who did not pit, led the field; his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates joined him in the top four for the restart. Nine laps later, Martin Truex Jr. attempted to work with Kevin Harvick on the outside line before the two migrated to the inside line. As he came down, Truex made contact with Kyle Larson, turning him around and collecting Chris Buescher in the process. Larson retired from the race as he had too many crewmen working to repair his car; under the new NASCAR damaged vehicle policy, any car with too many workers are removed from the race.
Racing resumed on lap 64 with JGR cars remaining in the top four. As Hamlin continued to lead, Keselowski and Logano began to move up the field and penetrate the Gibbs’ stranglehold on the top four positions. On the last lap, Keselowski collided with Hamlin in turn 2, spinning him and allowing Logano to take the lead and the victory. Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman dueled for 2nd place, the former taking the position in a photo finish. Danica Patrick finished 3rd despite being 10th at the start of the final lap, followed by Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Harvick. Hamlin was unable to bring his car to the finish and was classified in 14th.
It is Logano’s first Clash win and Penske’s third, tying the team with Robert Yates Racing.
“It’s a momentum builder,” Logano stated in Victory Lane. “It knocks the rust off of everybody and you go out there and try to have the best finish you can with the Shell-Pennzoil Ford. I knew the only way we’re going to beat those Gibbs cars – they’re so good at being a team – and the only way you can do it is you gotta break them up.”
Bowman, running the Clash in place of Dale Earnhardt Jr. as a gift of appreciation for serving as his substitute during the 2016 season, recorded his best finish in the #88 car. “It’s been a lot of fun, made a lot of memories, hope to do it again someday.”
With the Clash moved to Sunday, the 17 drivers are not finished with on-track action as they prepare for Daytona 500 qualifying. Qualifying will be held at 3:10 PM (Eastern).
|POS.||CAR #||DRIVER||MANUFACTURER||STARTING POS.||LAPS||LAPS LED|
|15||78||Martin Truex Jr.||5||60||0|
Featured image courtesy of Fox Sports 1