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The Freshies: Rain, Fuel Saving, and The Rock at the Daytona 500


Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

By Adam Carabine


Worst Weather


Mother Nature has it out for NASCAR.  Obviously this is out of anyone’s control, but weather has been a major issue in the first two events of the 2024 season.  The Busch Light Clash was pushed a day early (the first time in history that an event has ever been moved forward), and the Daytona 500 was postponed to Monday.  


What was encouraging was to see how full the stands were, despite running both the Cup and Xfinity Series races a day late.  This is NASCAR’s premiere event of the season, and while they were likely helped with the fact that Monday was also a holiday, it bodes well for the sport that people were willing to stick around and show up.  


NASCAR took a huge financial hit with the Clash, as they had to refund everyone’s Sunday tickets (and they vowed to “make it right” with the fans who lost out).  I’m sure there aren’t many fans who are crying over the league’s financial losses, especially with news of a newly renegotiated media rights deal bringing a fresh $7.7 billion to their pockets, but a sport that is making money is good for the fans.


Or, at least, a sport that isn’t losing money.  


Weirdest Strategy Evolution


It’s no secret that fuel saving has become paramount at the Super Speedways, but never was it more apparent than in the middle of Stage One on Monday.  In a weird turn of events, everyone just… decided to go slower to save fuel.  


And it wasn’t just the fans that noticed - multiple drivers were remarking on their radios just how strange it was. 


Denny Hamlin said, “How slow can we go?” and the answer was, quite slow.


At one point, AJ Allmendinger, who had fallen out of the draft, was running faster lap times than the giant pack.  That’s unheard of.  


The giant pack was running 2-3 seconds slower per lap than their fastest.  And really, all for what?


Yes, there was the early caution that had some drivers pitting, and others staying out.  The thought might’ve been that they could save enough fuel to not have to stop again before the end of Stage One, but ultimately it didn’t work.  Everyone still had to pit for fuel, and did it really make any difference?


The drivers often talk about “putting on a good show.”  This wasn’t it.


Best Throwback


So much is made about the rules package that NASCAR runs.  There are always going to be complaints.  Some say more horsepower, others say less downforce, but most seem to think it’s some happy medium between the two.  


One of the main complaints is that it seems harder for drivers to pass each other.  It’s undeniable that at some tracks, particularly the short tracks, the rules package leaves a bit to be desired.  However, NASCAR does seem committed to trying new things and experimenting.  It’s a work in progress, and you’ll likely never be able to make everyone happy at once.


However, Kyle Busch showed some old school flair in the middle of the 500.  After a costly error on pit road, Busch had a loose wheel.  He was forced to baby his car around the track under caution and come right back to his pit stall to have it corrected.  This could have proven quite costly in a race where track position seemed really important.


But somehow Kyle found his way back to the front… 13 laps later.  It might’ve looked like he channelled Dale Jr. in the 2001 Pepsi 400, that is, if anyone had noticed.  Suddenly we all blinked and there was Kyle Busch right back there challenging for the lead. Rules package haters be damned.


Loudest Roar


Huge props to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for sticking around and doing the command to fire engines a day later than originally scheduled.  Yes, it’s cool to see celebrities at the track, and yes, they usually are just there to promote their own latest endeavours, but let’s not forget that these people are busier than busy.


Both Pitbull and DJ Khaled were supposed to be in attendance, and unfortunately were unable to stay for the postponed Monday race.  And this isn’t an indictment of them for leaving - people are busy.  DJ Khaled even filmed a Wendy’s commercial (short film?) that aired during the race.  And Pitbull announced he will perform at the 2025 Daytona 500.  


It would’ve been easy for The Rock to bow out, citing scheduling issues, etc.  But he stayed around, he seemed to genuinely be enjoying himself, and even afterward spoke of the chills he had during the command.  I’m not sure it translates to that many more eyes on the UFL this season, but there is a funny sense of pride I get when important people like our sport.


Most Misplaced Fury


So without naming names, I did get this text in the middle of the race from a friend who was also watching.  

Yeah, initially it didn’t look great on Brad Keselowski, but you have to look farther back in the pack at who’s pushing.  It’s unfortunate, but a lot of the wrecks are essentially inevitable.  Unless of course they all slow down.  We tried that, I didn’t love it.


Best “That’s My Son!”


Have we ever seen Jeff Gordon this excited for a Hendrick Motorsports win? Certainly not since his driving days! I can’t tell if those are dollar signs in his eyes, or fatherly pride.  We might need Maury Povich to do a DNA test here



Best Stats


Joey Logano led the most laps of the day with 45.  Unfortunately he was collected in the Big One and finished 32nd.


Tyler Reddick had the most Quality Passes (passes while driving in the top 15) with 296, though I find these stats are always over-inflated at drafting tracks.


Who had the most Fast Laps of the race? It was AJ Allmendinger with 12!  I honestly think that must’ve been when he was trying to catch back up with the main pack.  


Kyle Busch had the most stage points of the day, also with 12.  It’s never too early to start collecting those.


Only 19 cars finished on the lead lap.  You can thank the Big One for that, as it took out nearly half the field.


Biggest Hype


NASCAR is officially back.  Need I say more?


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