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NASCAR changes may be a mixed bag

The Daytona 500 and all the support events are in the books for 2017. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series and all the rule changes for this year sure changed the way the races played out.

Lots of people are being quick to condemn the new format of the races for causing all the crashes and there were many of them. I don’t think all the problem lies with the new format.

Yes, there were a few accidents just as the stages were ending and there was a new intensity as those cars tried to gain a few vital championship points. However, I feel that the new lower downforce aero package had a lot to do with the multiple car crashes.

Restrictor-plate racing is well known for huge, multicar accidents and these races were no exception. The estimate of the cost to the teams to repair their cars has been reported to be in excess of $50 million. There have been races that run with few accidents and others worse than this. The drivers seemed to be a little more aggressive in bump-drafting and with the cars not as stable, this caused most of the crashes.

I think the stage format is OK. I’m not too impressed with the five-minute rule about car repairs after accidents. There were several cars parked that could have made repairs and gained points if they could have worked just a little while longer. I feel that sponsors may feel cheated if their car is sitting in the garage. Time will tell about all of this, especially next week as the cars move to Atlanta Motor Speedway. It will be interesting to see how it affects the short tracks and the mile-and-a-half speedways as the season plays out.

Speed weeks were definitely action-packed and offered job security for the body and chassis builders back at the race shops. Now let’s review the three top series races.

Thursday’s qualifying races for the 500 were really calm compared to the rest of the week’s events. Chase Elliot drove a great race and won the first one. Dale Jr. excited the crowds as he led much of the second race but at the end he got shuffled out of line and Denny Hamlin won the second race.

The Camping World Truck series rolled off for their race on Friday night. The NextEra Energy Resources 250 was probably the best race of speedweeks. Johnny Sauter positioned himself to win both of the first stages and appeared to have a very strong truck. Matt Crafton had worked his way to lead in the final laps and was appearing to be headed to victory lane.

The trucks exited the second turn to make the run down the back stretch on the final lap and a huge crash happened. Matt Crafton’s truck was hit and became airborne and flipped over several trucks landing on its wheels. Pole sitter and rookie of the race Kaz Grala missed the carnage and was one of the few trucks to make it back to the finish line. He became the youngest winner of a main series race there at 18 years of age.

Kaz drove a clean race and his truck was one of very few to not have any damage. Austin Wayne Self finished second. Chase Briscoe finished third and the father-and-son duo of John Hunter Nemechek and his father, Joe Nemechek, rounded out the top five. The trucks will race Saturday in Atlanta.

Last Saturday the Xfinity series ran the Power Shares QQQ 300 at Daytona. The race started in the afternoon but finished up under the lights due to several crashes and red flags. Ryan Reed drove his Roush racing Mustang to the victory. This was his second victory at Daytona and this time he held back NASCAR cup star Casey Kahne.

Ryan races with sponsorship from Lilly Pharmaceuticals diabetic medicine division. Ryan himself is a type-one diabetic and talks to youngsters about living with this disease and reaching for their goals in life.

William Byron made the move from trucks to the Xfinity series and had the lead late in the race but he got caught without a drafting partner and fell to ninth in the finishing order. Cup stars completed the top five with Austin Dillon third and Brad Keselowski and Brendan Gaughan rounding out the group. Elliott Sadler won the first two stages but was swept up in a large crash before the finish and finished 24th.

The Great American Race, the Daytona 500, took the green on Sunday afternoon and it too was a crash fest. Kyle Busch ran strong and won the first stage; however, a cut tire caused him to crash out during the second stage. Kevin Harvick was able to win the second stage. The race wound down and fuel mileage began to come into play.

Chase Elliott positioned himself in front of the field and appeared to be ready to repeat his Thursday night victory. His car sputtered as it ran low on fuel and he finished 14th. Martin Truex Jr. inherited the lead but he too lost fuel pressure and fell back. Kurt Busch had been running in third and he moved into the lead. Ryan Blaney and his Wood Bros Ford mounted a charge to the front but sputtered to second place at the finish.

Kurt drove his Monster Energy-sponsored Stewart Haas Racing Ford to capture the first Daytona 500 for car owner Tony Stewart. His crew chief Tony Gibson was ecstatic with the win at his home track. Gibson is from Daytona Beach. A.J. Allmendinger finished third. Aric Almirola brought the Richard Petty Motorsports Ford No. 43 home fourth and Paul Menard rounded out the top five.

On a special note, Michael Waltrip, who was driving in his last 500, finished eighth.

This weekend all three divisions move to the Atlanta Motor Speedway and I feel we will get a better idea how the stages and the new rules will work for competition. I’ll be watching and remember, this week they will be running 200-plus mph when there’s Another Left Turn.

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