Kyle Busch scored an unlikely victory in the exhibition NASCAR Clash race on the Daytona road course, after last lap contact between leaders Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott.
Heading onto the final tour of the 35-lap Speedweeks curtain-raiser building up to the Daytona 500, Blaney had snatched the lead away from Hendrick Motorsports’ Elliott in the infield of the 14-turn course and tried to use his seven-lap fresher tyres to pull away from the reigning Cup champion.
However, Blaney locked up and ran wide at Turn 1 on the final tour, allowing Elliott to close up through the infield, although the Penske Ford Mustang exponent streaked clear out of Turn 6 and looked to have enough margin in hand as he re-joined the oval section of track.
But in the final NASCAR-only chicane out of the oval’s Turn 4, Elliott divebombed Blaney, with the former squirming to keep control of his car as he suffered from a lack of grip.
Elliott then tagged Blaney, tipping him into the wall and lost crucial momentum on the run to the line, which allowed two-time Cup champion Kyle Busch to win the first-ever Clash race on the road course.
The race had boiled down to five lap shootout after leader Martin Truex Jr had crashed exiting the bus-stop chicane on the back-straight, moments after passing Joe Gibbs team-mate Denny Hamlin.
With six cars, including Elliott electing to stay out and not take fresh tyres, Blaney restarted in seventh as the lead car on new Goodyear rubber, with the #12 quickly dispatching the other non-stoppers to latch onto the back of road course specialist Elliott with three laps remaining.
After Elliott made a mistake, Blaney scythed past to take the lead before the incident happened next time around.
As a result of the contact that allowed Busch through to win, Elliott stayed in second, as Joey Logano salvaged a creditable third for Penske in a difficult evening for the #22.
Early on, he heavily clouted a kerb after being inadvertently squeezed by team-mate Brad Keselowski towards it and later clogged up his radiator with mud, a legacy of the pack continually cutting the bus-stop chicane and churning up the grass.
Much to his bemusement, he was also sent to the rear for not entering the pits in single-file – in a caution period after Cole Custer’s Stewart Haas stalled and briefly caught fire.
In his first Clash appearance, Tyler Reddick took fourth, despite stalling in the pits after accidentally turning the ignition switch off, with William Byron claiming fifth for Hendrick.
Denny Hamlin, who looked strong in the early blows lumbered to seventh, as Alex Bowman, in his first race in the #48 Hendrick survived a hefty whack to take seventh.
Erik Jones (Richard Petty), Ricky Stenhouse (JTG Daugherty) and Matt DiBenedetto (Wood Brothers) rounded out the top 10.
2020 regular season champion Kevin Harvick endured a miserable race, spinning twice on his way to an anonymous 15th, with fellow Ford driver Keselowski 17th.
In its first competitive race, the new Hamlin/Michael Jordan-owned 23XI Racing posted an 18th-place finish, but not with planned regular driver Bubba Wallace at the wheel.
As he did not meet the criteria to qualify for the race, the team fielded Ty Dillon, victor of a stage during the 2020 Charlotte ‘roval’ race.
He beat home Kurt Busch, who endured a tricky afternoon, and was last of the cars on the lead lap, with Custer and Truex three and eight laps down, respectively.