2017 marks a year of significant changes for the sport of NASCAR, with a new downforce package, a new damage policy, a new concussion policy, and changes to the race format to enhance the competition factor. Each race is broken down into 3 stages, with points awarded to the Top 10 finishers in the first two stages along with regular points to all the drivers at the end of the race. The number of laps of each stage will vary throughout the season depending on the track.
The 2017 Daytona 500 featured two stages of 60 laps each and 80 laps in the final segment. This new format did not disappoint as drivers raced hard toward the end of each stage, resulting in plenty of excitement and an intense show for the sold-out crowd.
Stage 1 was calm with nothing but hard racing and only one caution for a single car spin. The end of stage 1 saw an impressive 10-lap battle for the lead between Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney, with Busch eventually taking the 11 playoff points when the flag flew. Busch went on to wreck on Lap 105 after a rear tire went down and sent him spinning up the track and collecting rookie Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Under NASCAR’s new damage policy, all four cars were sent to the garage and were not allowed to return to the track.
Stage 2 winner Kevin Harvick wrecked only 8 laps into the final stage in a 17-car pileup that began with 7-time champion Jimmie Johnson and subsequently collected Danica Patrick, Denny Hamlin and many others. With 50 laps to go, yet another wreck ensued as Jamie McMurray attempted to go 3-wide but clipped the left bumper of Chase Elliott and almost turned him. Elliott essentially rebounded off Joey Logano and righted the car quickly, but not before the shake-up took out Brad Keselowski, rookie Daniel Suarez, and Ryan Newman.
Chase Elliott, who had won the Pole for the second year in a row, experienced a roller coaster day after starting in 1st and leading 12 laps to get sucked back in the draft. He battled back to the top five by the middle of the race, duked it out with teammate Kasey Kahne for the lead and things were looking favorable. But on Lap 150 he encountered damage resulting from Jamie McMurray’s 3-wide maneuver and was forced to pit. After restarting 18th, again Elliott battled his way to the front and was in a good place to win his first Daytona 500. Suddenly, however, with 2 laps remaining, Elliott, Kyle Larson, and Martin Truex Jr ran out of gas. On the last lap, Monster Energy driver Kurt Busch took the lead and the win. This is Kurt Busch’s first Daytona 500 win and his 29th career win.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be in Atlanta, Georgia next weekend (March 5th, 017) at Atlanta Motor Speedway. You won’t want to miss the competition. Tickets can be purchased here: http://www.atlantamotorspeedway.com/nascar/buy-tickets/