Sunday, February 19, 2017

Clash Serves Up Monster Cup's Mixed Beginning

NASCAR enters a new era, but with the legacy of deterioration still with it.

NASCAR's new series sponsor, Monster Energy Drink, endured a decidedly rough debut weekend as its first event, the Advance Auto Clash - aka the old Busch Clash - was delayed by rain from Saturday night until late Sunday morning, ironically a more preferable time to run the race than on a  Saturday night, which at Daytona has been plagued in recent years with rain delays, none more preposterous than the disastrous 2015 Firecracker 400.

First up was ARCA's Lucas Oil 200, and it was a frustrating race with several vicious crashes with two cars upside down, and the continuing problem for racing that it remains too hard to pass and too hard to push-draft, a problem that plagues NASCAR as well as ARCA.    The rally to the win by Austin Theriault - a Fort Kent, Maine native who was the unsung hero of 2016's Nextera Truck 250 at Daytona - was a welcome result but the frustration with how difficult it is to pass and to push-draft remains a sore spot for Speedweeks, and it showed up in the Advance Auto Busch Clash.

Some of the fight for the lead was good, but for the most part the top three or more either swerved all over and chopped off cars getting a drafting run or stayed on the bottom line and the top line could not advance and seize the lead - blocking has upsurged with the deterrent of push-drafting gone and it helped lead to the last-lap mess.    

Of the teams involved, the biggest losers were Hendrick Motorsports between Jimmie Johnson's sixth straight Busch Clash DNF and decided mediocrity on the part of 500 pole winner Chase Elliott; only Alex Bowman showed anything at the end.   The Chevrolets in general looked once again only able to draft, not take the lead or hold it beyond chopping everyone off.  

The Penske Fords are the obvious favorites while the Stewart-Haas guys looked okay other than Kurt Busch.   Danica Patrick's fourth-place finish was laughable given how the Red Sea parted after she was stuck racing for midpack as usual.   

Of the Gibbs Toyotas - once again prohibitive favorites for the 500 - newcomer Daniel Suarez looked the part of a rookie, he drafted and stayed in line and that was pretty much it.   Denny Hamlin is the obvious alpha dog in the JGR outfit.   Martin Truex in the Gibbs-aligned Vasser #78 had a bad day.

And so Daytona Speedweeks waits for Thursday Night and one wonders if the 150s will serve up something they haven't for years - a surprise.

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