The 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is unofficially underway with the completion of the 40th annual Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona. Brad Keselowski, who drew the last starting spot in a blind draw by children on Saturday, won the race as a caution at the exit of turn two on the final lap ended the exhibition event.
The Michigan native led the field for 43 of the 75 circuits to score the win. The exhibition season opener will not count in the win total but does give the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford team some bragging rights going into the second portion of Speedweeks at Daytona.
“I was worried about the run but the car was way overheating there at the end and I was more worried about it blowing up than anything else,” said Keselowski after the win. “Doug Yates and his guys did a good job giving me something real durable to take all that and keep digging. I am really proud of the whole effort here. What a way to start speedweeks, putting the Miller Lite Ford in Victory Lane. I am really proud of my team.”
The exhibition race allows a first-hand look at the new rule changes as they prepare for the Duel 150 races on Thursday and the Daytona 500 next Sunday. The Duel’s will set the rest of the starting order for next Sunday’s Daytona 500. Some drivers spoke about the differences they felt after the race.
“The cars are a handful. They are supposed to be. This is professional racing and they are supposed to be hard to drive,” Keselowski said later after the win. “This was no exception today. This is probably the hardest I have ever had to drive a car at Daytona, but I am not complaining.”
“I thought the car would be a handful and at times they were, said Ryan Blaney. “You can get pretty loose and the bumps shoot you around. Not too bad. Something to be aggressive with, which is what you need. You can always get a little more and maybe we will learn more about that in the Duels and 500.”
Erik Jones, who enters his second season of full-time racing in NASCAR’s premier series, expressed his thoughts on the new package at Daytona after finishing eighth.
“The new package is a handful. It’s hard to race. It was single-file the whole time and if you try to make something happen, you go to the back,” said Jones. “We went to the back and lost the draft, and that was about the end of it. From here, we have to try to figure out what we have to do for the (Daytona) 500 to stay in contention.”
Joey Logano will leave Daytona finishing in the runner-up position. Logano, a teammate to race winner Brad Keselowski, started third and led the freight train for one lap.
“It is fun when you are up there running and you don’t know what is going to happen. The suspense keeps building as you are running single-file,” said Logano. “Three to go, two to go, here comes the white flag. When do you make the move? Do you make a move? Sometimes you make and it is never the right thing. Everything has to time out just right. You are waiting to see what everyone else is going to do and you are thinking about the type of people they are and what the possible moves are they will make. Then as soon as we hit the white flag Blaney was able to go to the bottom, I had to stay on top because I would have gotten passed by the 48. I thought I would get a good push on the backstretch. The 41 had a hell of a run. Then they wadded them up.”
Last Season in the Advance Auto Parts Clash, Logano, from Connecticut, led the field for four laps and ended the night victorious. The series veteran started that race in ninth.
Kurt Busch rounded out the top three finishers in the Clash at Daytona. Busch, from Las Vegas, started 14th and rebounded from an issue towards the middle of the event. On lap 35, Busch was involved in an incident with Jamie McMurray in turn four. He was able to continue on while McMurray received a big deal of the damage.
Busch and the No. 41 team had several things on their checklist going into the 40th annual event.
“Project number one was to do all the laps so that we could understand more about our tires and our setup and the way that the car was going to handle. Then step number two was to have fun. I had a blast. I wanted to make another move on the last lap but ran out of steam because the guys behind me got too wide. I couldn’t jump in there and go after the Penske guys. It is a good day for Ford and good day for us and Billy Scott, my new crew chief. Now we will go back and debrief about our car.”
Less than 10 laps later, on lap 43, McMurray took his No. 1 Cessna Chevrolet to the garage area and was done for the day.
The race stayed clean for majority of the event until turn two on the final lap. That’s when Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Martin Truex Jr. made contact to give Brad Keselowski the race victory.
“The 42 (Kyle Larson) got into the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and messed him up a little on the straightaway there and then it was on after that,” said Kyle Busch after the race when asked about the last lap crash.
Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon rounded out the top five finishers. With Blaney’s fourth-place finish, Ford Racing took home the top-four spots. As for Dillon, his fifth-place finish was the highest finishing position for Chevrolet. Denny Hamlin was the highest finisher for Toyota in sixth.
Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson rounded out the top 10.
The next race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be on Thursday, February 15. The Duel 150 races will set the rest of the starting grid for Sunday’s Daytona 500 with the exception of the front row. Before the Clash, Alex Bowman, driving the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet, won the pole for the ‘Great American Race’. Denny Hamlin, driving the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, secured the second-place starting spot. These races will air live on FOX Sports 1 at 7:00 p.m. ET. and will also be carried by MRN radio and SiriusXM Channel 90.