Trying to figure out this year’s Clash

I started writing a column earlier basically saying this year’s Advance Auto Parts Clash was a boring race. I wanted to call it a clunker, one full of single-file driving around the 2.5-mile track. Limited action.

And then I went back and watched the race again and while I still can’t say the race had me on the edge of my seat, it did have its fair share of side-by-side racing. Particularly in the first 30 laps or so. I guess clunker would have been a little harsh.

There were times in the latter stages when the Clash showed promise, too. But honestly, for the most part the final laps at Daytona International Speedway did turn into a case of follow-the-leader and let’s see what happens.

Thank goodness for Austin Dillon and Chase Elliott, two drivers who finally decided to break ranks and try to form up an inside line in an attempt to get to the front. And who was it? Martin Truex, who decided to tag along and see what those silly kids were up to?

The last-lap crash that kept Jimmie Johnson from finishing under power for the seventh consecutive year wasn’t the result of drivers putting it all on the line – it was a mere miscalculation, a tap from Kyle Larson that sent the Hendrick driver into the wall.

Maybe distance was partly to blame – I witnessed this one from nearly 500 miles away and saw only what the network, in this case FS1, chose to show me. I’ve often felt that you get a much better sense of what’s taking place when you’re actually at the event.

Maybe the new “no ride height rule,” a move that erased minimum ground clearance for cars at the superspeedways this year, had something to do with it. Maybe that was part of the reason the cars seemed a bit more difficult to handle in traffic and kept drivers in check and in line for most of the afternoon. Maybe other pieces of the rules package (a bigger spoiler?) had an impact.

Maybe the fact that there were only 17 cars in the field played a role. When 40 cars hit the start/finish line Sunday for the start of the Daytona 500, there will be several more drivers willing to take chances and a few more willing to go with those who take those chances. For whatever reason, there seemed to be too little of that Sunday in the Clash.

Sunday’s race wasn’t a clunker, but it wasn’t quite what I expected or hoped for either.

There were fewer leaders and lead changes in last year’s Clash, but that race seemed much more exciting. And that was before Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski tangled on the last lap, allowing Joey Logano to sweep past for the win.

I won’t say drivers were just “riding around” Sunday. But for whatever reason or reasons, there didn’t seem to be a lot of folks eager to jump out of line and take a risk until the very last moment.

Maybe that’s what it takes to win on a restrictor-plate track and anything attempted prior to the last lap is foolish and destined to failure.

But in a race with absolutely nothing on the line other than bragging rights, that feels more than just a little disappointing.

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