NASCAR’s decision to throw a rain warning flag turned Sunday’s Daytona International Speedway road race on its head.
The NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday afternoon on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course was just like many road races before: Chase Elliott dominated behind the wheel of his # 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Elliott started on a winning streak with four racetracks. Not since June 2019, when Martin Truex Jr. won at Sonoma Raceway, has a driver other than Elliott clinched a point-paying victory on a track with left and right turns.
To put that in perspective, Darrell Waltrip was still at the Fox Sports booth for this race.
Elliott’s five wins on the road are already the best among active riders, and at 25, he’s just four wins off Jeff Gordon’s record.
In fact, he started a streak on Sunday that is only second to Gordon’s winning streak on six streets.
The reigning Cup Series champion dominated the opening stages of the race on the 5.810-kilometer road in Daytona Beach, Florida, and fought his way back to the top after a break in the third stage with a not-so-smooth pit stop. He led 44 of the first 57 laps and ran away with the race with only Christopher Bell hanging around in his rearview mirror. However, the race was upside down for Team # 9 – and it really was for most of the riders in the field at the time.
NASCAR decided to throw a rain warning flag in what many have since referred to as an “entertainment warning”.
Instead of the Elliott runaway win we all knew was coming, NASCAR got a less predictable result thanks to the pit stops / warning flags / wrecks below.
It was certainly more interesting than it would have been.
That is where the problem lies, however, and NASCAR fans everywhere have been quick to point it out, especially given the “phantom” rubble warnings we’ve seen several times over the years at interesting times during the races.
Several drivers (not named Elliott) applauded NASCAR for their decision (shockingly) to throw the rain warning as the sun shone over the Daytona circuit.
Here’s the funny thing: it was clearly not “too wet to continue in dry conditions,” as the rule goes, considering that no one actually used rain tires.
And in areas where it might have been a bit wet (which was actually confirmed by several people on the track), it was by no means “too wet”.
Even funnier: none of the drivers who supported the decision actually went for rain tires.
Kind of ironic, isn’t it?
In a way, NASCAR has fundamentally violated its own rules.
Elliott came to the pits during this time of the warning flag. Not everyone pitted, but everyone who changed tires went to new slick tires.
Elliott’s # 9 team had another bad stop and lost several places. He finished fourth after finishing at the top and was way outside the top 10 for the restart that followed as many riders chose to stay out on old tires.
After that it was just chaos.
Oh, and it probably rained somewhere in the world. Just not here.
Elliott made contact with Corey LaJoie’s # 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet just a few laps after the initial restart.
Shortly thereafter, a warning flag came out for a separate incident. After the next restart (and before the next warning flag), his No. 9 Chevrolet suffered even more damage thanks to more contact with machine No. 7.
Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch were both involved in separate incidents after the next reboot, but no warning flags were raised for either.
Elliott had somehow worked his way back into the top 5, but then this happened.
Denny Hamlin, who finished third, was one of the drivers who said after the race that it was pretty wet. He didn’t move to rain tires either.
Elliott hit the worst end of the deal, finishing in 21st place – thanks of course to the absolutely pouring rain that caused Lake Lloyd to overflow and flood the track. Or not.
Fortunately, amid the chaos, the race ended with a deserved winner, Bell to say the least.
Bell, who went without a win in 37 career starts, had finished second behind Elliott for much of the opening and middle sections of the third and final stage, and he was the only rider who could keep the pace steady and keep the pressure on him.
He got the job done in just his second start as driver of the # 20 Toyota.
As for the rest of the field, the disastrous days for Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski somehow ended up in the top 5, Busch in fourth place and Keselowski in fifth place.
This was of course mainly due to her decision not to pit during one of the late warning flag periods – but mainly because of “rain”.
For the second time in a row, Joey Logano lost the lead at this venue with less than two laps to achieve a first-time winner. He finished second after his decision to stay out nearly earned him a win. Fortunately, he finished this week’s race after falling out of the Daytona 500 as race director with two laps to go.
So does NASCAR have an entertainment problem? Did you handle it as well as you should have? There will always be questionable calls at the end of the day, but how this made sense from start to finish remains to be determined.