April 14, 2024

In a finish befitting the Daytona 500, William Byron benefited from a wreck on the last lap to win NASCAR’s most important race on Monday night. The fact that the race ended amid spinning cars just eight laps after the race was red flagged because of a 23-car pileup is not a surprise. That’s how the last 10 laps of Daytona usually goes.

Byron was just in front when Austin Cindric and Ross Chastain were down low pushing for the lead when they tangled. Because Byron just passed the start-finish line and the white flag, signifying one lap to go, was out, NASCAR checked video evidence that Byron was in front and all he had to do was finish the lap to win.

It was the third time the race was held on a Monday. Central Florida had two days of persistent rain that forced the moving of the 500 and Xfinity Series race, which was run after the 500 on Monday.

William Byron celebrates in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway after winning the Daytona 500 on Monday.

William Byron celebrates in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway after winning the Daytona 500 on Monday.

(Chris Graythen / Getty Images)

The race-ending action started with nine laps left when Alex Bowman just nudged Byron who then tagged Brad Keselowski and by then a lot of the top cars were caught up in a series of damage-inflicting crashes. When everyone stopped spinning, more than half of the field was involved. About half were able to get to pit row and resume racing, and, Byron was among them.

Three laps earlier, lines of cars were racing three wide. So, there was no way to avoid the inevitable and little blame directed at anyone.

The race was red-flagged for 15 minutes with eight laps to go. It went to yellow for the next four laps and went green with four to go.

Among those that wrecked out was Kyle Busch, one of five Cup Series winners to have never won the Daytona 500. This was the 19th straight time he has not won. Others in that ignominious club are Keselowski (finished 33rd), Chase Elliott (14), Martin Truex, Jr (15) and Kyle Larson (11).

Joey Logano was having a strong day and was competing for the lead when the incident happened. He led five times for 46 laps, the most of any driver. He finished 32nd.

Bowman finished second, like Byron in a Chevy. Christopher Bell was third, followed by Corey LaJoie and Bubba Wallace.

The race is divided into three stages, the first two are 65 laps and the final one is 70 laps, which equals a total of 500 miles over the 2.5 mile track. Stage racing was introduced in 2017, with bonus points tied to each stage, in order to promote more exciting racing not just at the end of the race but two times earlier.

It didn’t take long after the green flag dropped for the first caution to come out on Lap 6 as Keselowski got bumped causing him to turn into John Hunter Nemechek, who then got into Harrison Burton. One problem is a car that ends up in the infield will have a difficult time controlling things because of the wet grass.

Joey Logano and Michael McDowell lead the field to start the Daytona 500 on Monday.

Joey Logano and Michael McDowell lead the field to start the Daytona 500 on Monday.

(John Raoux / Associated Press)

“Once I got in the grass I couldn’t slow down because it was so wet so I just slid and slid and slid and came across the rest of the field,” Burton said.

The incident knocked Burton, Kaz Grala and Carson Hocevar out of the race and Austin Dillon had to take his car behind the wall for repairs. He did return but was more than 50 laps down. Jimmie Johnson was also caught up in the incident and lost two laps.

The caution changed the fuel strategy of a few of the drivers, who decided to go in for a splash and hope to make it without pitting for the rest of the stage. But most of the field waited until about 10 laps to go in the stage before coming in for a two-to-three second drop of fuel. Each stage is designed so that every driver has to make at least one stop.

Elliott ended up winning the stage as Chevys took the first six spots. He was ahead of Larson and Chastain. Three Toyotas took spots seven through nine. There were 15 lead changes in the stage among nine drivers. Christopher Bell led the most laps with 20.

The stage points system works with the top-10 finishers getting points.

The second stage went without caution but was a great exhibition on how manufacturer cars try and help each other. With 10 laps to go in the stage it was Busch and Byron working together in Chevys and Ryan Blaney helping Cindric in a Ford. But on the last stage lap Ryan Blaney, in a Ford, took advantage of the battle up front, came low and won the stage. He was followed by Cindric and then Daniel Suarez and Busch.

Unfortunately for Busch, who had led a total of eight laps on three occasions, had a problem during the mandatory caution at the end of the second stage when one lugnut on his left front tire wasn’t on correctly and he had to take a slow ride around the track and pit to have it fixed. But he did remain on the lead lap, meaning he wasn’t out of contention. There were 11 lead changes in the second stage.

The early stages at Daytona always seem to be the appetizer for what turns out to be a mad, risk-taking last 10 laps to the championship.

Monday did not disappoint.

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