DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kyle Larson’s car shot sparks and climbed skyward.
Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Ford was clipped and smashed the outside wall, his hood rising unnaturally to meet the windshield.
Matt Kenseth went from race leader to mowing the lawn.
The “Big One” yielded all of the above Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, with a wild wreck on Lap 152 (of 163) bringing a little bit of everything and punctuating what was a wilder-than-usual night at the 2.5-mile oval.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. survived it all, powering through the field late for his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the season. Most everyone else wasn’t so fortunate.
“It seemed like we were three-wide all night tonight,” third-place finisher Paul Menard said. “Why that is, I have no idea. Before the race I was trying to figure out if it was going to be a wild race or not, and I knew it was going to be a wild race for some reason. Night race, sparks flying, had a crazy XFINITY race a couple hours before.
“You know, why some races are wilder than others, I don’t know. It’s pretty damned hot out there, not a lot of grip, and cars are sliding around.”
The summarizing visual was Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet snapping into the outside wall and lifting off the ground and into the fence, with Ryan Blaney — with no place to go — T-boning into him as the car landed.
Larson emerged unscathed, but the same could not be said for his Chevrolet — it was trashed beyond repair.
“I was just up front there and doing what I could to stay up front,” Larson said. ” … I just moved up too high and ran across Ricky’s (Stenhouse Jr.) nose and I hate that I caused that wreck. I feel pretty bad about it.”
Busch, this year’s Daytona 500 winner, missed out on the Daytona sweep. His smack of the wall, while less cinematic than Larson catching air, was the hardest impact of the night.
“I saw some crazy stuff happening on the high side,” Busch said after his release from the infield care center, and most drivers echoed that.
This Daytona under the lights felt … different. It was a wild race from the start (“The fans got their money’s worth,” Danica Patrick quipped), with drivers spreading out to three-wide early in Stage 1 and staying there for most of the night.
Way different race tonight than usual. Combo of the short stages & softer Goodyear tire has made the track super easy to drive= wreckfest
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) July 2, 2017
It yielded an ending that saw many of the sport’s top plate racers — Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano among them — either parked for good in the garage, or on the plane back to North Carolina.
The final restart saw Ty Dillon and David Ragan leading the field to green with two laps to go.
At the end of Saturday night, and into Sunday morning, the explanation became simple, really.
“At the end of the day, you’re three-wide because you can,” said runner-up Clint Bowyer. “Then all of a sudden somebody starts slipping up off the corner, or checks up, late block, something. And the rest is history.”