Sometimes clichés become clichés because they're true - it really isn't how you start, it's how you finish.
What began as a so-so Speedweeks first showed true competitive fire in the first half of the Nextera Truck 250, but then on Saturday the Late Model Sportsman series - a series that was the Busch Series seemingly forever, then had Nationwide on its side - debuted Xfinity sponsorship and it seems the debut could not have been more exciting. It injected Speedweeks with a massive dose of fire.
Ryan Reed ended a 0-for-lifetime skid at Daytona in all stock car classes for Roush Racing and did so even as crashes so thinned the field that only about eight cars were left to fight for the win. Aric Almirola, driving a Fred Biagi car (curiously it was reminiscent of Curb Motorsports, a nice unintended reminder of the historic link between Almirola's Cup team in Richard Petty and Curb), stormed into the fight at the end but his role in the last-lap Kyle Larson melee blew out his tire, leaving the fight to Reed gunning down a helpless Brad Keselowski.
Larson, for his part, once again acquitted himself superbly in a fight, though his role in the nasty Daniel Suarez-Regan Smith trioval contretemps shouldn't be ignored. Indeed, Larson was but one of many racers who showcased amazing competitive fight in this race. The opening 40 laps were one gigantic nose-to-nose sidedraft mostly between Darrell "Bubba" Wallace, ex-Joe Gibbs Trucker turned Roush Xfinity combatant, and Ty Dillon, with Kyle Busch and Regan Smith heavily involved, the foursome merely four of over twenty cars battling for the front.
The big picture takeaway from this astonishing race is that the racers seem to finally be figuring out effective push-drafting within the tighter box NASCAR has installed. They are ostensibly not allowed to push-draft all the way around, but in this race they made push-drafting effective again - not since the 2013 season have we seen push-drafting this effective, and it was reminiscent of both the 2012 Busch Clash that saw a heady mix of push-drafting and conventional pack racing and the Talladega Truck 250 in 2013 that likewise saw that combination, though there the push-draft was far more effective.
It is exactly what NASCAR should want for the 500 and other races down the road.
Takes on several racers in this 300 -
I was surprised Aric Almirola didn't pull off the upset, as he showed a mixture of Richard Petty strategy and aggressiveness - if he can improve that in the 500 he can pull off that upset. Unnoticed was his quasi-teammate Dakota Armstrong, who began to show some fight and finished a reasonable 11th in Petty's Sportsman car.
The RCR Chevys were strong as always, and Ty Dillon is clearly the better of the two Dillons as a racer.
The Toyotas had nothing to be ashamed of. Eric Jones overall acquitted himself well, and there will be discussion of Kyle Busch's bad crash into the infield road course entry area - questions about the lack of SAFER barriers will of course be asked; that it's an area over 200 feet from the racing surface where crashes simply haven't happened is why there wasn't a SAFER there; the SAFERS are supposed to be where the wrecks happen. The real issue is these cars are not scrubbing off any speed when they slide as Busch's car did - over and over we've seen cars slide through these paved run-off areas and there was no scrub-off of speed at all.
Curiously quiet all day was Dale Earnhardt Jr, who nonetheless finished in the top ten.
Regan Smith's unexpected Speedweeks got off to a wild start with a great fight for the lead ending upside down in the trioval.
The best sponsor of the race was on Mario Gosselin's Chevrolet - Crash Claims R Us.
I give Danica Patrick grief because she deserves it - also deserving it is John Wes Townley, who seemingly can't run any race without wrecking.
Thus did Xfinity take over the Busch Bash and thus did its debut as series sponsor produce the kind of fireworks that scare people and also amaze them, and showcase the awe that is racing at its best.