Race Preview: the Busch Clash

After a long winter hibernation, NASCAR’s premier division is back.

Just as it has for each NASCAR Cup Series season since 1979, the Busch Clash will serve as the unofficial opener for a new season. However, this year’s Clash will redefine the event, because for the first time in the race’s history, the Clash will be run not on the high-banked tri-oval, but rather on the 14-turn, 3.61-mile Daytona road course.

NASCAR first ran the Daytona International Speedway road course during the 2020 season as a result of the road course race at Watkins Glen International being cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. Chase Elliott won that race, extending his winning streak at consecutive road course races to three. Elliott also recently competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January, making him among the most recent NASCAR drivers to tackle Daytona’s famed road course.

Typically, the Busch Clash is an invitational event which the previous year’s pole winners get to race, but because of the pandemic, almost every qualifying session after NASCAR’s seven-week break was cancelled, which forced NASCAR to change the eligibility requirements for this year’s non-points race. The new eligibility requirements are:

  • 2020 Busch Pole Award winners
  • Former Busch Clash winners who raced full-time in 2020
  • Former Daytona 500 winners who raced full-time in 2020
  • Former Daytona 500 Busch Pole Award winners who raced full-time in 2020
  • 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoff drivers
  • 2020 NASCAR Cup Series race winners
  • 2020 NASCAR Cup Series stage winners

By these requirements, the drivers eligible to participate in the 2021 Busch Clash are:

  • Kurt Busch, no. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
  • Brad Keselowski, no. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang
  • Austin Dillon, no. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
  • Kevin Harvick, no. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang
  • Ryan Newman, no. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Mustang
  • Tyler Reddick, no. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
  • Chase Elliott, no. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
  • Aric Almirola, no. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang
  • Denny Hamlin, no. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry
  • Ryan Blaney, no. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang
  • Chris Buescher, no. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Mustang
  • Kyle Busch, no. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry
  • Martin Truex, Jr., no. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry
  • Matt DiBenedetto, no. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Mustang
  • Joey Logano, no. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang
  • Ty Dillon, no. 23 23XI Racing Toyota Camry*
  • William Byron, no. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
  • Cole Custer, no. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang
  • Erik Jones, no. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
  • Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., no. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
  • Alex Bowman, no. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth are also eligible, but all have retired from NASCAR following the conclusion of the 2020 season.

*Ty Dillon will run the Busch Clash for 23XI Racing since Darrell Wallace, Jr. is not eligible for the event. After the Clash, Ty Dillon will move to the no. 96 Toyota for Gaunt Brothers Racing for the 2021 season.

RACE AND TRACK STATS

The Daytona International Speedway road course layout that NASCAR will use for the Busch Clash.
Graphic by Joe Passero.

Track: Daytona International Speedway Road Course

Track Length: 3.61 miles

Race Length: 35 laps/126.35 miles

Pit Road Speed Limit: 45 mph

Defending Winner: Erik Jones

Package: 750 horsepower, low downforce

First Race: 1979

First Winner: Buddy Baker

Most Event Wins: Dale Earnhardt, 6 wins (1980, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995)

FIVE TO KEEP YOUR EYES ON

Chase Elliott

Photo credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion enters the Busch Clash riding a wave of momentum from last season when he won the final two races of the season and his first NASCAR Cup Series championship. Furthermore, Elliott has won five of the last seven races on road courses, which includes the last four in-a-row. One of those last four road course wins was at NASCAR’s first-ever Daytona road course race. Need any more reasons to know why Chase Elliott will be a threat? No? Well, too bad. Elliott is also among the most recent NASCAR drivers to compete on the Daytona road course – he competed in the prestigious 24 Hours at Daytona, started from the pole position, and still ended the race in eighth overall after a mechanical failure. It’s a bit of an understatement to say the Elliott is the odds-on favorite to take home Tuesday night’s trophy.

Denny Hamlin

Photo credit: Terry Renna/AP

When Chase Elliott won at the inaugural Daytona road course race, he didn’t win it by much over Denny Hamlin, who was less than a car length behind the winner. Hamlin was perhaps one of the few drivers who had a legitimate chance to dethrone Elliott as the road-course king that day, and there’s no reason he can’t do it . Hamlin does have a lone road course win at Watkins Glen back in 2016, but his last showing on this type of circuit resulted in a 15th-place finish at the Charlotte Roval. If Hamlin can have just a slightly more competitive car than he did last August at the Daytona road course and avoid misfortune, he could find himself in the world center of racing’s victory lane yet again. 

Ryan Blaney

Photo credit: Getty Images

Although he often tends not to make a ton of noise on road courses, Ryan Blaney knows how to get around the right turns. In his 12 road course starts, he’s collected seven top-10 finishes and four top-fives, including a thrilling win at the Charlotte Roval in 2018. Blaney finished third in the second stage at last year’s Daytona road-course race, but a pit road speeding penalty put Blaney in a hole he couldn’t recover from. If Blaney can go mistake-free in the Clash, be sure to look for his no. 12 Ford toward the front.

Martin Truex, Jr.

Photo credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

As Chase Elliott has been clicking away road course wins, Martin Truex, Jr. has been right on his bumper. Truex finished third at the Daytona road course last August, only behind Elliott and teammate Denny Hamlin. Truex won his first road course event at Sonoma in 2013. He didn’t revisit victory lane at a road course until he won at Watkins Glen in 2017. Truex has won the last two races at Sonoma, finished second in the last two races at Watkins Glen (both times to Chase Elliott) and seventh in the last two races at the Charlotte Roval, making him another favorite to take home his first trophy from Daytona in NASCAR’s premier division.

Alex Bowman

Alex Bowman and William Byron score top-15 finishes at Daytona Road Course  as Hendrick teammate takes win - Axalta Racing
Photo credit: Jasen Vinlove/NKP

Upon first thought, Alex Bowman isn’t a road racer. He’s never won on a road course, but he’s had quite a few good showings. In all three races at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, Bowman has posted two top-five finishes and an additional top-10. He also has a top-10 finish at Sonoma, and in last year’s race at the Daytona road course, he was just shy of a top-10 finish, placing 12th. So maybe he isn’t the favorite, but he’s certainly capable. Bowman is taking over the no. 48 in place of Jimmie Johnson, who retired from NASCAR at the end of last season, and the last time the no. 48 car visited victory lane was two years ago in the Clash.

BROADCAST INFORMATION

The Busch Clash will air live on Tuesday, February 9 at  7 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and Motor Racing Network (MRN). There will be a random draw for qualifying which will not be aired on TV or radio, and there will be not practice for the event.

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