Daytona Speedweeks is supposed to be the start of an exciting new season for NASCAR. Last week Speedweeks started, but was not too exciting.
Last Sunday, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series held pole qualifying. Hendrick Motorsports, coming off a dismal 2018 season, swept the top four positions in qualifying.
William Byron, led by new crew chief Chad Knaus, won the pole with teammate Alex Bowman alongside him on the front row. Jimmy Johnson and Chase Elliott completed the sweep by Hendrick Motorsports. Other than the front row for the Daytona 500, the rest of the lineup was established by the duel races held Thursday night.
After qualifying, Speedweeks continued with the Advance Auto Parts Clash. Twenty of the top drivers participated. The 75-lap race looked like a conga line with 15-20 cars following single file in the top groove, lap after lap.
Once in a while, a car moved down to the bottom groove, but without help, quickly moved to the rear of the field. Hopefully the 500 will be more exciting.
The race came to a merciful conclusion with a wreck around lap 56. Jimmy Johnson, running second to Paul Menard, pulled out nearing Turn 3 and got too close attempting to side-draft, making contact with Menard, sending him across the track into oncoming traffic.The resulting melee damaged 15 of the 20 cars in the field.
Mercifully, Mother Nature had seen enough and the skies opened under the resulting caution, leaving NASCAR to call the race official after 59 laps. Although the race was a non-points race, Johnson was extremely pleased with the win, his first since May 2017.
NASCAR sent three car chiefs packing after their cars failed pre-qualifying inspection twice. All three will not be allowed into the Cup Series garage until the following race weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, barring an appeal.
These ejections mark the first time NASCAR has exercised its stricter penalties for teams who fail pre-qualifying inspection. Prior to this year, a car chief was ejected if a car failed pre-qualifying inspection three times. Now, it’s two.
One of the biggest rule changes to keep an eye on is if a team wins the race by bending or breaking the rules, it’ll lose the victory.
Said NASCAR, “We’re going to put it on the teams to bring their equipment right. An onsite post-race inspection will be conducted on the first- and second-place cars in each race, plus at least one other randomly selected vehicle. This process should be completed in about 90 minutes to two hours after the checkered flag waves. If any of those cars fails the inspection, they will be stripped of their position and credited with last place, the rest of the field moving up accordingly. Disqualified teams will not receive stage points, playoff points, automatic playoff berths or playoff advancement, either.”
The last race winner in the Cup series to be disqualified was Emanuel Zervakis in 1960 at Wilson (North Carolina) Speedway due to an oversized fuel tank.