The Monster Energy Nascar Cup Series drivers could learn a valuable lesson by following the example set first by Kurt Busch in 2017, and second by Austin Dillon a year later. If you’re going to lead only a single lap over the course of the biggest racing spectacle of the year, just be sure to make it the one that counts.
Sounds simple? Think again.
History dictates that Nascar’s superspeedway races are most often crapshoots, where anything can happen, probably will, and any given driver’s “good day” can turn around in a heartbeat, Don’t believe it? Just ask Ryan Blaney, who appeared on the verge of victory after leading 118 laps before finding himself caught in a melee involving last year’s winner, Kurt Busch; rookie polesitter Alex Bowman; and reigning series champion, Martin Truex Jr. And while Blaney would end up trading his potential victory for a nonetheless seventh-place finish, Lady Luck would not be quite so kind to a number of others who appeared in contention, as several high-profile drivers would find themselves on the outside looking in before all was said and done–notable among them rookie polesitter Alex Bowman, whose day ended in the 17th position; Kyle Larson, who finished 19th; Kyle Busch, scored 25th; Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott, all of whom finished below the 30th position; and perhaps the ultimate disappointment–Danica Patrick’s career-ending finish of 35th after involvement in the same multi-car crash that ended the day for Elliott and Keselowski.
But for all of those bitten by their unfortunate encounters with Lady B. Luck (the “B” standing for “Bad”), a few surprises of the more pleasant kind awaited some of their fellow competitors, most notable among them being unexpected top 10 finishers Anthony James “A.J” Allmendinger (10th), Michael McDowell (9th), Paul Menard (6th, in his new ride with the legendary Wood Brothers), Chris Buescher (5th), runner-up and series rookie Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. in his Daytona 500 debut; and last but certainly not least, the 2018 Daytona 500 Champion Austin Dillon. And although Dillon’s last lap move which ultimately took would-be-winner Aric Almirola out of contention would be met with a bit of disdain and controversy, nonetheless it served as a reminder that no race is ever over until the drop of the checkered flag–marking the second consecutive season in which the biggest race of the year was won by a driver who led only “the most important lap.”
So the pageantry and hype surrounding Nascar’s version of the Super Bowl are in the books. And no matter how the fans and critics alike view the outcome or feel about how the race was ultimately won, or how they view the overkill of comments concerning the return of the iconic Number 3 to victory lane at Daytona, the time has now come to put the most celebrated event of the year to rest as the teams move on to Atlanta this weekend and focus on the remaining 35 races of the season. Just what lies ahead remains to be seen, but one thing is certain:
We’re ready. Start your engines, and bring it on.
Lisa Ballantyne, Totally Nascar Talk
All views herein are my own. Readers’ comments are always welcome.