The Last Lap: Clash at Daytona

Source: Twitter.com/NASCAR

The 2018 NASCAR season is officially underway following Sunday’s unofficial Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona. Let’s get to it:

» Brad Keselowski is confident, and Sunday he backed it up. Keselowski led 41 of 75 laps the including most of the final 30 laps to earn his first win in February at Daytona. He made it look easy, though it came with some help.

» That help came from Ryan Blaney, who for some reason opted to pull low on Keselowski in the tri-oval at the white flag. The move didn’t work when Keselowski tossed a half-hearted block and Joey Logano, trailing Blaney, stayed high. Blaney faded back and left a major unanswered question about why he didn’t wait to pull that move on the backstretch after repeatedly earning a push from Logano in previous laps that would have been enough to pull alongside Keselowski. Blaney told Fox Sports 1 after the race that he thought the tri-oval was the right time, but admitted in hindsight it was a mistake.

» The Clash revealed that last fall’s rule changes to the restrictor plate package have made a significant impact on each car’s handling. Those offseason changes included an elimination of ride heights, no rules governing rear shocks or springs and a slightly taller rear spoiler. Teams now have the cars sitting visibly lower in the rear while drivers are dealing with cars that seem to be much looser. “Handling definitely came into play there,” Logano said on Fox Sports 1. “I’m amazed we didn’t crash more than we did.”

» The changes also made the first part of Sunday’s race much more chaotic in the draft. Drivers seem like they could gain a lot more momentum to make passes, leading to multiple lead changes. However, those opportunities appeared to fade once drivers started dealing with tire wear.

» What’s up with the bump draft? Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson both wanted to see a replay after contact between the two sent Johnson spinning and caused a multi-car last lap crash. A zoomed-in shot of Larson pushing Johnson showed no egregious error on Larson’s part, yet Johnson still lost control immediately.

» Chip Ganassi’s team has some work to do. Between Jamie McMurray spinning off the nose of Kurt Busch to bring out the race’s only caution and Larson nearly wiping out the field when he got loose entering Turn 1, it seems the Ganassi Chevrolets have a similar illness to what Hendrick Motorsports dealt with at plate tracks in recent years. Larson remarked after the race that his team has a lot of work to do, and Sunday’s Clash didn’t dispute that.

» It seems unlikely that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will be the last to earn a penalty for passing under the double-yellow lines during Speedweeks. Stenhouse earned the penalty for sliding under Kyle Busch on the backstretch, and had a valid point when he tried to protest via the radio that Busch blocked him. NASCAR wasn’t listening, however, because blocking isn’t illegal.

Is it time the NASCAR should stop caring so much about that double yellow line? If the object is safety, then penalizing Stenhouse Sunday gave drivers on the inside the green light, again, to hold their position and spin the car that’s crowding them down. Is that actually better than a crash on corner entry when a car is touching the apron? NASCAR would be just fine to let that the threat of a crash rule the field, rather than trying to guess who was right or wrong based on slow motion replay.

» The new scoring ticker in use on Fox Sports’ broadcasts so far from Daytona has become fairly polarizing on Twitter, and with merit. The change is abrupt for NASCAR broadcasts. Since 2001, Fox has opted to use some sort of scoring monitor that either scrolls or flips pages across the top of the screen. Now, the data is displayed on the left side of the screen.

The benefit is more data (positions, drivers and time behind) is visible at a glance than ever before. The downside is that is takes up a lot of screen space, and gives a viewer the feeling that they’re missing part of the camera shot. Is the answer reverting to Fox’s previous scoring system? That seems unlikely and a step backward. But it seems reducing the footprint of the left side ticker while adding some transparency to the graphic would be a good start.

Best quotes: Clash

“It’s a little cluster-ish.” — Caleb Hurd, fueler for Denny Hamlin’s №11 Toyota, talking about the debut of the new five-man pit stop in use this season for all teams.

“You’ve got to find where the limits are.”–Kurt Busch, on racing in the Clash with a new rules package.

“That sucked right there. This is going to be rough.” — Chase Elliott, via his in-car radio about the finish of the race.

The Daytona 500 is Sunday.