Not once during the 65-lap NASCAR Cup Series race on the Daytona road course was there a significant issue in Turn 1. And the veteran drivers at the front of the field made sure there certainly wouldn’t be one on the first lap.
“Kevin [Harvick] came up to me on the grid right before the anthem, and I think Kyle [Busch] and Martin [Truex Jr.] were talking at Martin’s car, and they saw Harvick and me talking, so they walked over and said, ‘How are we going to do this?’” revealed Denny Hamlin. “It was orchestrated well, and obviously it made us look like professionals instead of some of the other restarts that we’ve seen this weekend.
“I’ve been talking about the first corner, obviously in my tweets yesterday (and as I said), my braking points were not exact, so enter at your own risk.”
Harvick started on the pole with Hamlin to his outside. Truex and Busch lined up in the second row.
With no practice or qualifying going into the weekend, a lot of the pre-race chatter was on the recipe for potential disaster in the first corner. Sunday was the first time Cup Series cars ran on the 14-turn Daytona road course.
Hamlin believes Cup drivers watching three races before taking the green helped minimize mayhem. ARCA ran Friday night, followed by Xfinity on Saturday, and Sunday morning leading into the Cup Series race was the Truck event. Then the top four starters in the Cup race not having any secrets and agreeing where to start braking kept them from looking “like a bunch of dummies there in Turn 1.
“We made sure we kept it clean to start, and then you can get your bearings about you after you run a few laps,” Hamlin continued. “It’s one of those tracks where I feel like it’s not super technical, but it definitely rewards the guys that do the right techniques on road courses.”
Harvick and Busch both had strong starts to their days, but ended up disappointed. Harvick was spun by Christopher Bell from second place in the final stage and later spun by himself. He finished 17th. Busch was running inside the top five when he went to the garage for a mechanical issue only to return and then crash with five laps to go. He finished 37th.
Hamlin finished second to Chase Elliott after challenging the Hendrick Motorsports driver during the final lap-three run to the finish. Despite getting close, Hamlin kept it clean and was unable to get around Elliott. Truex wound up third after rebounding from a speeding penalty.
The stat sheet will show it was a relatively clean race with only four cautions. However, three of those were for stage breaks and a lightning delay.
“We just wanted to figure out how we were going to approach Turn 1 so we didn’t crash each other and look like idiots,” said Truex of the start. “It was just about what kind of marker were you going to use for braking so we didn’t run each other over. It went fine from there.”