DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — The first race of the NASCAR season was a demolition derby that turned Daytona International Speedway into a giant junkyard.
The Busch Clash? More like the Busch Crash.
Erik Jones won Sunday’s race that left a multi-million dollar trail of destruction and masked the fact the Clash is a made-for-TV exhibition race. Only 18 cars were entered and only six were on track when the checkered flag flew at the end of a third overtime.
Jones crossed the finish line in a Toyota with a crumpled hood after a huge push from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and defending Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin was a lap down after a blown tire on the previous overtime attempt caused him to crash half the cars remaining on track, but he had enough speed to give Jones a push along the outside and give Gibbs yet another win. The Gibbs organization won 19 races last year, went 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500 and won the Cup Series title.
Joe Gibbs is now the all-time winningest owner in Busch Clash history with nine victories.
Brad Keselowski was among those incensed by the aggressive late blocking. The race was fairly anti-climactic until two wrecks in the final nine laps sent it into overtime, and as Keselowski railed against the racing that ended his day, Hamlin got a flat tire as the leader on a restart and collected most of the cars still on track.
“Dumb, dumb racing,” Keselowski said moments before the overtime accident. “We shouldn’t be wrecking all these cars. You’d think these guys would be smarter than that. It’s the same thing over and over, somebody throws a stupid block that’s never going to work and wrecks half the field.
“I don’t know. Maybe we need to take the helmets out of these cars and the seat belts out. Somebody will get hurt, and then we’ll stop driving like (expletive).”
The cars raced in Sunday’s exhibition event are backups for the Feb. 16 season-opening Daytona 500.
The 75-lap race ended up lasting 88 laps because of the late crashes, making it the longest in history.
Austin Dillon was second in the new Chevrolet Camaro and followed by Clint Bowyer in a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. Kyle Larson was fourth for Chip Ganassi Racing and Ryan Newman, in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford, was fifth and the last car on the lead lap.
Hamlin in sixth had the only other car running at the end.
Jones led just one lap, the last one.