BY AARON BURNS
A race which has undergone more adjustments than an ill-handling race car finally nailed the setup on Tuesday night.
The Busch Clash started out as a nine-car, 20-lap shootout during the day on Daytona International Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval in 1979. On Tuesday, we saw 35 laps of wheel-to-wheel action among 21 cars under the lights on Daytona’s road course.
Like Denny Hamlin’s sponsor, it delivered.
Hamlin dominated the early stages, but after a series of late pit stops and differing tire strategies, two drivers emerged: Chase Elliott, who wins every road-course race, and Ryan Blaney, who had fresher tires.
Neither ended up winning.
Elliott and Blaney collided in the final turn on the last lap, Blaney slammed the wall, Elliott slammed on the brakes to avoid him and Kyle Busch swept through to claim a surprise win.
You knew it was a strange finish, because you were surprised that Kyle Busch won.
You’re not supposed to be surprised when Kyle Busch wins.
Busch is no stranger to success. Aside from one victory last year, though, it’s been a while since he visited the winner’s circle. The 17-year NASCAR Cup Series veteran had to wait nine years for his second Clash win.
Busch first won the Clash in 2012, when the race was on Daytona’s oval, it was called the Bud Shootout and the Car of Tomorrow was in the present. Times have changed, but the driver holding the checkered flag hasn’t changed.
No matter if he was turning left, right or both, Busch was just glad to win again.
“Winning the Clash on the oval and winning it on the road course is certainly cool,” Busch said after the race. “I feel like we’ve had some really good runs on (both). We obviously did (Tuesday) due to some unforeseen circumstances.”
Unforeseen circumstances, in the Kyle Busch dictionary, refer to Elliott’s chasing down Blaney in the final corner and the two coming together, turning Busch’s 1.6-second deficit into an unlikely triumph.
“I’m not sure if I’ve ever won a race like that,” Busch said. “I know there was a lot of excitement.”
There was. It was a good start to the season for Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing and everyone who enjoys good racing.
Busch was rarely a factor last year and a no-holds-barred road race seemed to bring out the best in the two-time series champion. Everything Busch said after the win, though, pointed to his focus on solving the last glaring omission from his resume: a Daytona 500 victory.
Dale Earnhardt needed 20 tries to win the Daytona 500. Darrell Waltrip needed 17.
Other legends, like Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin and Tony Stewart, never won the race. Busch, who has won NASCAR’s biggest races and its series title, desperately wants the Harley J. Earl Trophy which goes to the Daytona 500 winner.
He spoke Tuesday of an interesting opportunity presenting itself, with regard to the Clash finish.
Busch’s real opportunity, however, comes on Sunday.
Will he take advantage of it?