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Clash Becomes A Road Trip

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 9 2021

The Clash ended with a big crash in 2019.(RacinToday/HHP file photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the first time in the Busch Clash’s 43-year history it will be held on Daytona’s 14-turn, 3.61-mile road course and that changes the complexion of Tuesday night’s special event.

With the NASCAR Cup season’s second race occurring on the same road course and no practice on the schedule for that event, information obtained during the Busch Clash will be extremely valuable.

“It took a whole new level of importance within our approach,” NASCAR champion Kurt Busch said about the non-point event. “We’ve got minimal time on the track, but we’ve got to make the best of it. We’re approaching this as a bridge from where we were last year at that (Daytona) road course, where we were at the ROVAL, and all of what we’re doing is prepping towards the Feb. 21 race.” 

Daytona’s road course was added this year to NASCAR’s 36-race Cup schedule after the pandemic forced cancellation of the season’s second event at Auto Club Speedway. Last year, it was added to the schedule in August to help all three of NASCAR’s national touring series complete their seasons during the pandemic.  

Even though the Busch Clash had been assigned to the Daytona road course ever since the 2021 schedule was released, the pandemic required adjustments to the criteria for admittance into this year’s event. Normally reserved for the previous year’s pole winners in the Cup Series, qualifying was used for only four races last year. That meant there were only four Busch Pole award winners. Joining those drivers this year in the Busch Clash are past winners of the event, Daytona 500 winners and Daytona 500 pole winners who competed fulltime in the Cup Series in 2020. Last year’s playoff drivers, race winners and stage winners, bringing the field to 21. The race’s starting lineup was determined Monday night in a Zoom conference draw by each team’s crew chief in the order of the 2020 point standings.

 Ryan Blaney will start on the pole with Alex Bowman second. Rounding out the starting lineup, respectively, are Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott, Cole Custer, Erik Jones, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Matt DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher, Ty Dillon, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Aric Almirola.  

“It’s a pretty important race because it’s one of the few races where we get to kind of almost have a little bit of a practice session of races to come,” said Custer, who’s in his sophomore season in the Cup Series. “This one is not points related, so you can go out there and try some things and try to figure some things out for the other road courses. I think it’s put a lot more emphasis or importance on that race for sure.”

DiBenedetto says the Busch Clash will provide a “good evaluation” for the Wood Brothers’ road course program, which was probably the team’s weakest area last season. 

“We basically have a race to evaluate what gains we’ve made and how to continue to get better at those places because … our speed on the short tracks, on the intermediates … were excellent, especially the last bit of the year,” DiBenedetto said. 

Jones noted the Clash will be the first time he has ever driven a car for Richard Petty Motorsports, so it will be a “learning process.” 

“Everything is new – the brake package, the motor package, the car, the manufacturer,” continued Jones, who formerly drove for Joe Gibbs Racing. “I think we’re going to learn a lot going forward with what we need to do as a group.”

Blaney agrees with his fellow drivers that the Busch Clash will help prepare his team for the Daytona road course race scheduled just 12 days after the Clash, but he still wishes the special event was on the 2.5-mile oval due to only a single hour of practice before Daytona 500 qualifying on Wednesday. No practice is scheduled prior to Thursday’s qualifying races. 

“The Clash was a perfect race on the speedway to kind of just get back in the rhythm of things in a race,” Blaney said. “You can go out and practice in a pack, but you’re not necessarily gonna race hard in practice in a pack because you don’t want to tear up your car. So the Clash was great as … an exhibition race to go try new things with your car and see what they could do, just get back in your mode of racing cars and timing and things like that. The Clash on the speedway was nice just to get back in the swing of things.” 

The 35-lap Busch Clash is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on FS1.

(Editor’s note: Deb Williams is in her fourth decade of covering motorsports. The former editor of NASCAR Winston Cup Scene and managing editor of GT Motorsports has also covered auto racing for United Press International, USA Today and The Charlotte Observer. The 1990 and 1996 National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year has authored five books and hosts the podcast “Racing Now and Then.”)

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, February 9 2021
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