The final piece of the puzzle is in. And after four sessions of practice, the Busch Clash, twin 150-mile Duels in Daytona, and qualification, the Daytona 500 is no more nor less predictable than it was on New Year’s Eve.
It never hurts to watch practice. Occasionally one gets the sense for who is going to be aggressive or timid in the draft. For example Kyle Larson stayed out of big draft for most of the final sessions and that suggests he is perhaps a little anxious about tearing up another car. Last year he had one of the biggest percentages of accidents and the aero-restricted superspeedways were particularly brutal.
The Joe Gibbs Racing cars seemed content to run in a draft of their own and ignore everyone else. If the race evolves into five- or six-car packs, they will have a distinct advantage because they topped the 10- and 15-lap charts on Friday. They were so pleased with themselves that they didn’t even come out to play on Saturday.
If the race has a late caution – and what do you think are the odds of that? – then the gloves will come off and the Daytona 500 could look a lot like last weekend’s Busch Clash. If that is the case, be prepared to start the season with minimal points and set your sights on Las Vegas.
On Friday we learned the consequences of the Duels. Ryan Blaney and Corey LaJoie will roll out backup cars after they sustained significant damage in their qualification races. Notably both drivers knocked out one of the non-chartered teams when Blaney made contact with Daniel Suarez in Duel 1 and LaJoie tipped JJ Yeley into the wall in the second Duel. All things considered, rolling out backups is a much better scenario than watching the race from the couch.
Ty Dillon will also drop to the back of the field to start the race after making a gear change.
Starting track position only matters if there is an accident in the first couple of laps of the 500, however. By Lap 5 the churn will be complete and some drivers who started up front will be at the back of the draft while some of those who started near the back will have made their way forward.
Kevin Harvick took Friday off to fix some damage from the final laps of Thursday.
William Byron posted the fastest single lap with a speed of 204.587 mph in the draft. Rounding out the top five were Ryan Preece, Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon, and Tyler Reddick. Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman took the sixth and seventh positions to give Chevrolet a sweep of the top spots. The bowtie brigade can draft well together as well.
Martin Truex Jr. led the Gibbs contingent with the quickest 10-lap average over Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, and Erik Jones. The order was slightly different on the 15-lap chart, but Gibbs still swept the top five.
Toyota took the day off and let the other manufacturers get some air time. They weren’t the only ones as only 26 drivers took to the track and one of them spent the entire session working on equipment issues.
Joey Logano posted the fastest single lap in the final session with a speed of 200.517 mph.
“Towards the end (of the race), I can see it being very aggressive,” Logano said on FS1 after the session. “Like every other Daytona 500 – especially with this rules’ package now. Everyone is racing so hard. Everyone knows what it means to win the Daytona 500, how big of a deal it is. And you know you’re going to see some aggressive driving out there and that usually causes crashes.”
Everyone also knows that if they crash and earn minimal points in this race, there are still 25 opportunities to win and lock into the playoffs. That has caused the type of nothing-to-lose attitude that compounds the issues on this track type.
Strap the TV down Martha, it’s in for a bumpy ride.
Success and failure is all about little things: Alex Bowman spent the session working on his radio.
Draft Kings: Daytona 500
Bluegreen Vacations Duels in Daytona
Daytona 500 Cheat Sheet
Fantasy Live Preview
Daytona 500 Qualification Report
Bluegreen Vacations 150, Clash Practice Report
Four to Watch: Ty Dillon
Four to Watch: Ryan Newman
Four to Watch: Aric Almirola
Accident Waiting to Happen: Superspeedway success