DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — With fewer than five laps remaining in Stage 1 of Sunday’s Daytona 500, an eight-car crash broke out at the front of the pack coming out of Turn 2 at Daytona International Speedway.
Rookie Harrison Burton was leading the outside lane with fellow Ford driver Brad Keselowski behind him. Keselowski put a little more oomph into his pushing in order to gain ground on leader Martin Truex Jr. Instead of pulling out front, Burton was turned to the left and into the inside line, specifically William Byron. The two collected multiple cars in the aftermath.
“I don’t know if it was too much,” Burton said. “I just think it might have been in the wrong spot. It’s hard. These bumpers don’t line up as good as the old ones did. Through the testing, I always found that the center was the best. So, when I was pushing Joey (Logano) or whatever, you’ll want to push in the center of the bumper.
“I mean, I haven’t watched a good video of it yet, so don’t take what I say to the bank. Obviously I’m not questioning Brad’s ability. But I think he just got a little wide on my right side and kind of shot me on the inside there.”
Damage ended the days of Burton, Byron, Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain. All were evaluated and released from the infield care center after exiting their cars on their own.
Keselowski stayed on track and finished ninth. Kyle Busch, Erik Jones and Alex Bowman were also involved in the incident and continued to finish the stage. Truex, who is winless in 67 superspeedway starts (most among active drivers), ultimately won Stage 1 on Lap 65, which ended still under caution.
Busch finished sixth, Bowman 24th, while another crash with 10 laps remaining sealed Jones’ fate for a 29th-place result.
“At that point, I mean, obviously, it’s over-aggressive if it causes a wreck,” said Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner. “But I saw it coming. And that’s the tough part, like you could see the 21 (Burton) was kind of sideways and out of control and Brad just wouldn’t let him go. Like eventually, you got a let him go and get his reins back.”
Keselowski ended up finishing second in the stage, earning nine points.
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Jones was the only wreck driver who managed to stay in the top 10 come stage end. He was eighth, getting three points. Byron, Burton, Busch and Hamlin were 11th through 14th in order. Chastain and Bowman were 16th and 17th, respectively.
“All the guys on the inside seemed to be able to take the push pretty well,” Byron said. “My car definitely accepted the push really well, so I thought we were gonna have a really good day. Sucks that it ends before we get any points.”
Byron’s car sustained severe damage, as it was sent nose-first into the interior retaining wall.
Though Burton didn’t feel a hard hit, he found himself upside down at one point during his tumble through the field.
“The roofline itself is lower, but they’ve got us lower in the car as well, so I’d say my head is about in the same spot as it was in my Xfinity car,” Burton said. “I didn’t notice like any intrusion or anything. I thought it maintained its shape pretty well. … I think it was so far a good testament to the car being safe.”
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The four contenders removed from the competition filled in the bottom four spots on the leaderboard. Hamlin, Byron, Burton and Chastain claimed 37th through 40th. Burton recorded three laps led, holding the front spot twice.
“Stage points really matter, and as a rookie year, it’s big to get them,” Burton said. “I wanted to push for those but obviously I’d love to be out there racing still. I don’t know what I could have done different. It’s hard to be in a lead and say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to be up here.’ You feel like that’s the safest spot.”