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NASCAR America: Analysts discuss what led to big wreck in the Clash

Jimmie Johnson contends he wasn't trying to hit Paul Menard, which ultimately ended with Johnson winning at the Clash.

On the season debut of NASCAR America Monday on NBCSN, analysts Steve Letarte, Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton dissected how Sunday’s Clash played out at Daytona International Speedway.

Jarrett praised Hendrick Motorsports for not only winning the Clash, but also how William Byron – with Chad Knaus now as his crew chief – won the pole for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

“It looked like Hendrick Motorsports did a lot of work,” Jarrett said. “They may have worked right through Christmas. Very impressive in qualifying. And I think a rejuvenated Jimmie Johnson, I saw a driver that wasn’t going to let anything stand between him and the guy that gets the trophy.”

But then Burton and Letarte pointed to the big wreck at the conclusion of the Clash, which began when race winner Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard – who was leading at the time – made contact. Johnson continued to get the checkered flag, while Menard and 16 other cars were involved in the incident.

“It took one race for guys to be mad at each other, which I think spells great things for the year,” Burton laughed. “We want action, competition, people going for it, going for the win, the rain was coming, Jimmie Johnson made a move. That’s what we want our drivers to do and that’s what we got.”

Letarte chimed in, saying:

“I know there was a lot of conversation about that move. I think the rain forced him into that move. I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I saw plate racing. He had a run coming off two, down the backstretch, turns the inside of Paul Menard. Did he side draft? Yes. Did he need to side draft? Yes. It looked like there was going to be contact but there wasn’t any until the 21 came down (into Johnson). And unfortunately it basically took out the whole field and that’s the move that ended the race. … I saw a clean move.”

Burton disagreed with Letarte calling it a clean move, but said Menard didn’t do anything wrong and that Johnson was merely doing what drivers do in plate races. Sunday’s Daytona 500 will be the last restrictor-plate race in NASCAR history after more than 30 years. Going forward, cars will be slowed down at Daytona and Talladega by tapered spacers.

“I saw 15 cars wreck, so it clearly wasn’t a completely clean move. It was a move you see in plate races, cars running closely together,” Burton said. “If you don’t want to expose yourself to danger, you go single-file. So the minute an aggressive move got made, there was contact, around they went and there was a big wreck.

“To win a plate race, what are you going to do? You’re going to have to make an aggressive mode. Jimmie Johnson didn’t turn left then turn the wheel back right intending to spin a guy out directly in front of him. That wasn’t the intention. That’s certainly what happened in regard to the contact, but the intention wasn’t to run Paul Menard. He didn’t do anything wrong. He got run into, that’s what I saw, but it wasn’t because Johnson was going to wreck in front of him and the entire field. That wasn’t his thought process.”

Check out the video above for more of Letarte’s, Jarrett’s and Burton’s thoughts on Sunday’s race, as well as the Daytona 500.

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