2018 NASCAR Cup Series: Daytona 500 talking points

Andrew Kitchener Roar Guru

By Andrew Kitchener, Andrew Kitchener is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger


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    Kyle Busch on the NASCAR track in 2014.

    The sixtieth Daytona 500 has been run and won, and the 2018 NASCAR season is underway.

    As we’re accustomed to on the high banks of the Daytona International Speedway, it was a fascinating and at times controversial event. Here are my talking points from stock car racing’s biggest weekend.

    A controversial last-lap pass for Daytona immortality
    Technically, it was a pass inside the last half-lap that decided the sixtieth Daytona 500 in favour of Austin Dillon. For the second year in a row, the winner of the Great American Race led just one lap all day: the last one.

    That’s where the similarities end. Kurt Busch’s 2017 triumph was a fuel-mileage victory, and Dillon’s involved a fairly dubious move to push the leading Ford of Aric Almirola out of the way (and, subsequently, into the wall) as the charging pack headed into turn three on the final circuit of Daytona International Speedway.

    Dillon’s move wasn’t one I necessarily agreed with. It was, however, very reminiscent of the man who once drove a similarly-coloured No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing: the late, great Dale Earnhardt. Moving a car out of the way, especially on a short-track, is a proven way of winning race in NASCAR. I just don’t like it – no matter who’s involved. If you can’t get around a guy with flat-out speed or driving smarts, you probably don’t deserve to advance a position.

    There’s been plenty of criticism of Dillon, but he was just doing what guys had been doing since the drop of the green flag. We saw blocking and audacious moves all day, right from the drop of the green flag.

    Dillon was just following the likes Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and others who were doing whatever they could to win the race. For the record, Almirola later said he had no problem – at least not publicly – with what Dillon did, suggesting that he might’ve done the same if the shoe had been on the other foot, given they were racing for a Daytona 500 win.

    Other drivers agreed. But again, because there’s a perception that Dillon lucked into a ride because his grandfather Childress has shoehorned him into a ride, there’ll always be controversy and discord attached to the win.

    Dillon’s background matters
    In the blue-collar world of NASCAR, you can become a hero by working your way up through the ranks to the Cup Series. It’s how Dale Earnhardt did it, and how others before and after have achieved the pinnacle of NASCAR competition. It’s fair to say that Austin Dillon and his brother Ty have had an easier run of it, thanks to the patronage of their grandfather, Richard Childress.

    Fair to say a lot of folks don’t like the Dillons, who’re perceived to have been given everything in their racing careers without having to earn it.

    So, that raises an interesting question: there’s plenty of anger that Dillon won in the manner he did. I can’t help but wonder if the reaction would be different if a more universally-popular driver (Chase Elliott, for example) had made the move.

    For the record, I don’t like the concept of ploughing a guy out of the way, no matter which drivers are involved.

    Dillon’s was great due to the Dale Earnhardt connection
    Twenty years after The Intimidator won his only Daytona 500 victory and 17 years after one of the sport’s greatest drivers lost his life in a last-lap crash while blocking the field to give Dale Earnhardt Incorporated’s Michael Waltrip his biggest triumph, there was something pretty special about seeing the No. 3 Chevrolet back in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway.

    Even if you don’t agree with the famous No. 3 being brought out of retirement by team owner Richard Childress – and there are many, many thousands who believe the number should never be used again in tribute to Earnhardt, a notion I tend to agree with – it was pretty cool seeing it drive back to victory lane twenty years after The Intimidator’s only Daytona 500 triumph. He made that team and that number famous.

    When Austin Dillon wins in the NASCAR Cup Series, he makes it count
    Dillon has two NASCAR Cup Series wins: last year’s Coke 600 at Charlotte and now the 2018 Daytona 500. For those playing along at home, he’s won fifty per cent of the sport’s crown jewel events – with only the Southern 500 at Darlington and a Brickyard 400 win at Indianapolis to come – in less than a year. I guess if you’re going to win, win big!

    The end of NASCAR Xfinity Series race was beyond ridiculous
    If you missed it, Saturday’s Xfinity Series race featured not one, not two, not three but an incredible five overtime attempts before Tyler Reddick finally won, in what is the closest finish in NASCAR history, his margin of victory 0.000.

    The epic finish wallpapered over the cracks: there was some horrendous driving by one of the youngest starting fields in Xfinity Series history, and the safety car seemed to spend more time at the front of the field than any of the cars actually racing.

    Marcos Ambrose in NASCAR

    (Photo: NASCAR)

    Look, I’m all for races not finishing under the yellow flag, but going through five overtime attempts to get an event to end under green is insane. At the start of any given overtime attempt, there are two laps left in the race.

    The leader must make it around one lap and take the white flag, and then the next flag ends things. If there’s a crash half a second after the leader crosses the start/finish line with one lap to go, the race is over. But if that crash happens half a second earlier, NASCAR will throw the caution, clean up the mess and go again with another overtime period.

    Theoretically, we could have been going all night, trying to get a quote-unquote proper finish. Time for a change to be made: maximum of three attempts, then end it there. Saturday’s finish, though exciting in the end, was farcical. No wonder some people like to call NASCAR wrestling on wheels. What we saw on Saturday is only going to fuel those particular fires.

    TV ratings weren’t good
    I held back on this article so I could write something, either way, about the ratings. Despite all the hoopla and a reasonably entertaining race – if you like plate racing, you were well served; if you liked cars getting torn up in bunches, you were also well-served – the overnight rating of 5.1 was down from last year’s 6.1.

    That is the lowest overnight Daytona 500 rating in at least ten years. Not encouraging signs for a sport that’s haemorrhaged television viewers and at-track attendees at an alarming rate since the glory days of the early-to-mid 2000s.

    Next week
    All three of NASCAR’s national series head to the ultra-fast 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway. Trucks and Xfinity race back to back on Sunday morning (Australian time) with the Cup Series racing over 500 miles on Monday morning. At time of writing, all three races will be live on FOX Sports – check your local guides.

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