By Jerry Jordan, Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The night began with some of the 21 drivers in the 2021 Busch Clash looking like they forgot a few driving skills in the off-season and ended with an epic side-by-side battle between Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott into the final chicane on the front stretch – and Kyle Busch came from nowhere to win the race.
“I didn’t know how it was going to play out or what was going to happen there, but I saw those guys go in there two-wide and I was like, I don’t know if they’re going to come out two-wide,” Busch said. “Certainly, it was a tough battle between those two. They were really good. The 9 (Chase Elliott) was fast, I don’t know if he was the class of the field, but the 12 (Ryan Blaney) was definitely just fast and made aggressive moves and was doing a good job all night getting himself back up to the front each time. Those two coulda, shoulda, woulda been the two to race it out for the win and maybe the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.). Just interesting how that plays out sometimes and what dynamic will push you into victory lane.”
Busch kicks off the 2021 season with a new crew chief and several new crew members, so coming together for a win early is big for the No. 18 team. Still, he said, he wasn’t sure – after just 36 laps on the track – that they were a well-oiled machine.
“It’s nice to have good runs,” he said. “Obviously, winning cures all. I’m not sure that we’re mature enough or we’re ready enough in order to win as a group, but I feel like this is a good start anyway. Obviously, winning never hurts anything, but there is some stuff for us to get a little bit better on, for us to grow on. This is a good start. Doing the work that we did to prepare for this event and getting us in the right spot to be able to win tonight was what it’s all about. Good all around.”
Throughout the race, several cars missed, or overshot, Turn 1 including Kurt Busch and Blaney, who were both leading at the time. Tyler Reddick was also a victim of overdriving the turns at the Daytona International Speedway road course, as was Kevin Harvick, the first to take a spin. Kurt Bush said he overshot the turn because he “forgot to turn off the front brake fans” and had no heat in the brakes when he tried to make the hard left. He would go on to finish the race in 19th.
Blaney had recovered from his mishap, though, and was leading on the final turn of the last lap when Elliott took him out. He was obviously frustrated but the blow may have been a little softer because it happened with his best friend as they were both going for the win.
“Just two guys going hard,” Blaney said. “We didn’t really get away from him like I needed to on the last lap there, after we passed him. I didn’t get away from him. I kind of slipped up one or two corners and he was able to get into me there and kind of keep me close. I hit the mud hard on the backstretch and kind of let him get even closer and then I was trying to protect against the dive bomb there and I braked deeper in that corner than I had braked all night and he set it off in there and we came together and neither one of us won the race. It definitely sucks for sure, but I appreciate the fast car and it’s a shame it didn’t happen.
“A race is a race. I don’t care if it’s an exhibition race or a normal points race. I don’t care about that. It’s racing, but I was upset about it, for sure. Chase and I know each other well. I know he didn’t do it on purpose, but sending it off in there hard like anybody would do it’s just a shame we both got taken out or neither one of us won the race. If you’re gonna make a move like that make sure you either win the race, don’t let the third-place guy do it.”
With his helmet in his hand, so to speak, Elliott said, said it wasn’t his intention to wreck Blaney. Adding that he’s going to race hard for the checkered flag regardless of who is alongside of him but the optimal outcome would have been for one of them to win.
“Yeah, and neither one of us won. That’s the big one,” Elliott said. “I was close enough to drive it in there and I feel like I’d be mad at myself for not at least trying. Obviously, I don’t mean to wreck anybody, especially him. Some guys I wouldn’t mind. But he’s not one of them. Hopefully, he’s not too mad at me. I feel like you’ve got to go for it here in an event like this in any situation. I can’t be sorry about going for the win, but I certainly didn’t mean to wreck him. I drove in there and, just that corner gets so tight and I didn’t want to just completely jump the curb to the right. But I feel like I tried to get over there as far as I could. And at that point, we were coming together at the same time. I hate it.”
Upon hearing what Elliott said, Blaney quipped back.
“I hate it happened, too. It didn’t work out for either of us,” Blaney said, in response to Elliott’s conciliatory remarks. “We were just racing hard and I had a little bit fresher tires there. We saved a set and got back to second there and his car was really good. I had to use up a lot to get to him and I kind of tried to protect and I drove into the last corner really deep to try to make sure I didn’t get dive-bombed like that, but we just came together there. What are you gonna do?”
Joey Logano finished third, followed by Reddick and Wiliam Byron in fourth and fifth, respectively.