Daytona had thrills and spills
OK, Speedweeks 2018 is in the books. Wow! Great racing and action were featured at all the events whether it was the half-mile dirt at Volusia Speedway Park or the high banks of Daytona International Speedway. Let’s take a look at all the final events beginning with the World of Outlaw Super Late Models doubleheader at VSP.
Friday night the best field of super late models took to the perfectly prepared clay surface at VSP. The fast qualifiers were Scott Bloomquist and Mike Morris in the two group sessions. The four heat race winners were Scott Bloomquist, Dennis Erb, David Breazeale and Mike Marlar.
There were two Last Chance Showdowns. Three drivers transferred to the main in each race. LCS one saw Kyle Bronson, Timothy Culp and Tyler Bruening transfer. Race two saw Josh Richards, fast qualifier Mike Morris and Modified standout Nick Hoffman transfer to the main. Chub Frank used a provisional to make the main.
The cars that missed the feature race were literally some of the best in the nation. Donny Schatz, Don O’Neal, Chris Ferguson, Hudson O’Neal, Brandon Overton, Boom Briggs, Earl Pearson Jr, and Jimmy Owens all missed the main.
Fifty hard laps were run and “Black Sunshine” Scott Bloomquist grabbed the win over SC’s Chris “Smoky” Madden. Dale McDowell finished third. Ohio’s Mason Ziegler and Brandon Sheppard rounded out the top five. Saturday night they all tried once again to win the final $10,000 check of Speedweeks. Tyler Millwood and Scott Bloomquist set fast times in the two sessions.
The four-heat race winners were Mike Marlar, Dennis Erb, Scott Bloomquist and Chris Madden. Once again two LCSs that would rival any feature event anywhere. Top three transferred from each race. Race one saw David Breazeale, Devin Moran, and Don O’Neal move on and race two saw Rick Eckert, Mike Morris and Joey Coulter transfer. Provisionals were given to Brandon Overton, Tim McCreadie, Shane Clanton and Chub Frank.
Drivers that missed the final night’s feature were Nick Hoffman, Billy Moyer, Mason Ziegler, Chris Ferguson, Donny Schatz, Earl Pearson Jr, and Darrell Lannigan. This night was Brandon Sheppard in the Rocket House Car taking the feature win. Chris Madden once again finished second. Mike Marlar ran third. Rick Eckert and Josh Richards rounded out the top five. Chub Frank earned the hard charger award, coming to sixth, passing 21 cars.
Friday night saw the action move to the high banks of Daytona as the Camping World Truck series ran the NexTera Energy 250. David Gulliland sat on the pole and won stage one. Johnny Sauter driving the GMS Chevy Silverado took over the lead and won the second stage and held on to win the race. Johnny’s crew chief Joe Shear Jr’s wife passed away back in December and the team dedicated this win to her memory. Youngster Justin Haley finished second. Veteran Cup series racer Joe Nemechek finished third. Ben Rhodes and Scott Lagasse Jr. rounded out the top five.
Saturday afternoon the Xfinity series took to the track for the Powershares QQQ 300.
Daniel Hemric won the pole position and led till Kyle Larson made his way to the front and the first stage win.
Chase Elliott took the second stage and it was good superspeedway racing. The final stage and especially the final laps became a matter of survival. It took over and hour, 20-plus laps, and five overtime restarts to get in the final lap. Young Tyler Reddick took the win away from Elliott Sadler on the last lap. Ryan Reed brought his damaged car home third. Kaz Grala and Garrett Smithey rounded out the top five. This was a preview of what was to happen in the 500.
Sunday it was time for the 60th annual “Great American Race,” the Daytona 500! Rookie Alex Bowman and Denny Hamlin brought them down for the start and it was apparent Alex was playing with the big boys. He got shuffled out and Hamlin led the first lap.
Last year’s winner, Kurt Busch, won the first stage as several crashed just before the end of the stage. Blocking and aggressive driving has become the norm for this type of racing.
Ryan Blaney was able to win stage two for his new Penske Racing Ford team.
The final stage and laps were more like a demo derby. There were 10 extra laps of overtime and it appeared Aric Almorola driving the old Danica Patrick number 10 Ford for Stewart-Haas Motorsports was going to win.
At the end of the back straightaway Austin Dillon, driving the familiar RCR number 3, got a run on the leader. Almorola threw the blocks to try and slow Dillon but the two contacted. Almorola crashed into the third turn wall and finished 11th.
Dillon took the number 3 to victory lane on this the 20th anniversary of Dale Earnhardt Sr’s only 500 victory. New rookie sensation Darrell Bubba Wallace Jr., driving the King’s number 43, took second from Denny Hamlin at the finish line. These two were rubbing and bumping coming to the line and Bubba literally beat him by inches. Hamlin carried the Richard Petty Motorsports Camaro ZL-1 into the front straight wall beyond the finish line.
Hamlin finished third. Joey Logano and Chris Buescher rounded out the top five.
Fans lit up social media expressing their displeasure with Dillon. Hamlin’s actions after the checker were also called into question. Hamlin claimed he had no control over the car because of a cut right front tire. He had no trouble driving it back to the pits after the race. I would have had more respect if he would have just owned his actions.
My take on the Dillon – Almorola incident: It was just hard restrictor plate racing. Almorola was gracious in his interview and said Austin did what he had to do and “I did what I had to.”
Dillon, his family, and team were so very excited that his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup victory was the Daytona 500. This is going to be an amazing season with lots of new, young and talented drivers challenging for the Cup this November. I for one will be watching next week as the teams move to the Atlanta Motor Speedway, and remember, at the end of the straightaway there’s another left turn.