DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Though Kurt Busch won the opening stage of Sunday’s Daytona 500, the first segment of racing will be better remembered for the stage-ending crash that eliminated several top contenders from the running.
Two-time Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson and former XFINITY Series champion Daniel Suarez were among a list of eight drivers involved in a multi-car accident entering turn three, sparked when second-running Ricky Stenhouse Jr. threw a heavy block on Ryan Blaney going down the backstretch.
Stenhouse saved his car after getting sideways, but the field stacked behind him and others were not as fortunate.
Erik Jones was the first to go around, with Johnson, William Byron, Suarez and others piling in behind with nowhere to go.
Johnson and Suarez were among those who sustained race-ending damage, with the seven-time Cup champion saying afterwards that it was too soon in the race for drivers to be making moves “as crazy” as the one Blaney made.
“There was some great racing throughout, but unfortunately, many people thought that was the black and white checkered flag we were coming to and not the green and white checkered flag,” said Johnson. “On lap 59 to be throwing blocks like that just … it led to a lot of wrecked race cars. We will go to work and go to Atlanta next week. But it is disappointing for this Lowes team and everyone at Hendrick Motorsports for all the work they put into it.”
Sunday marked Johnson’s third crash in three Speedweeks events, following a wreck on the last lap of the Clash last weekend and a hard hit during his Can-Am Duel on Thursday night.
“It’s been tough lately,” Johnson admitted of his rough luck at Daytona. “I have had some great days and nights here through the July race and this race, but of late it’s been tough. That’s just how it goes, though. If I want to think too hard about it, I can just look back at Earnhardt’s record here and know how long it took him to get his first … and remember that I do have two.”
After Suarez was released from the infield care center, he said he couldn’t see much before he was in the middle of the maelstrom.
“It was very hard to tell,” Suarez said of what happened from his view. “I was just trying to stay out of trouble either in the front or in the back … and at that point we were at one lap to go to the end of the stage and 60 laps into the race and everyone was blocking very, very close.”
“Everyone was being aggressive and it was a little bit too early, and somebody turned my teammate the 20 (Erik Jones) and then he hit the 42 (Kyle Larson) and the 42 hit me. After that there was pretty much nothing I could do.”
Jones, who was hooked to start the biggest chunk of the melee, was frustrated because he felt he had a car capable of winning the Daytona 500 — and proved it too, leading 11 straight laps during the first half of the opening stage.
“It looked like the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) just got freed up there by the 12 (Ryan Blaney), unfortunately,” explained Jones. We tried to check up and everybody got stacked up and caused a big wreck. It’s unfortunate because our DEWALT Camry was definitely fast – we just didn’t get to the end to see what we could really do.”
“We were in position, I thought, to have a really good race. We were staying upfront and out of trouble, it just didn’t work out.”
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 24-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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