Column: Clint Bowyer’s Last-Ditch Effort To Win Daytona 500 Ends In Nine-Car Wreck

Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – The timing was right. Unfortunately, from Clint Bowyer’s standpoint, the execution left something to be desired.

Bowyer was running out of time after a restart with two laps left in regulation in Sunday’s Daytona 500. On the backstretch at Daytona International Speedway, he ducked to the inside of Michael McDowell’s Ford in a three-wide attempt to move forward from his fifth running position.

But contact with McDowell’s car ignited a nine-car wreck that sent the race into overtime—without Bowyer in it.

“Hey, it’s the Daytona 500—I had to go for it,” said Bowyer, who was credited with a 20th-place finish. “I was a little bit frustrated with the lineup (for the Lap 199 restart). I know I was ahead of the 22 (Joey Logano) when the caution came out, but I guess it went back to the last scoring loop or something.

“This just sucks, man. We had such a good Rush Truck Centers, Mobil 1 Ford Mustang. This is my best foot forward I have ever had here. We had a shot at it, and I took it. I had a big run on the 34 (McDowell), and knew that I had to make quick work of him because in the mirror they were going three-wide and losing their minds, so you knew that was going to come down on you.

“So I decided to lose my mind, too.”

MATT DIBENEDETTO’S EXCELLENT RUN COMES TO ABRUPT, VIOLENT END

Matt DiBenedetto’s 28th-place finish hardly did justice to the way the Grass Valley, Calif., driver performed in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

After all, DiBenedetto held the top spot for a race-high 49 laps, more than doubling the 23 he had led in his previous 140 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts combined.

In his first race in the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota Camry, DiBenedetto was running near the front when Paul Menard’s Ford hit him from behind and turned him into the outside wall as the cars approach Turn 3. By the time the sparks stopped flying, 21 cars had been involved in the wreck, and DiBenedetto had been eliminated from the race.

“Just one of those racing deals,” DiBenedetto said ruefully after leaving the infield care center. “I talked to Paul there, and he was just trying to get to my outside and got into my right rear. This is the first time that I’m seeing it (on replay), and he just got to my right rear and was trying to push. I was focused on trying to help my Toyota teammates. This was the best speedway event I’ve had in my life – being able to lead and do some incredible things.

“This is such a great team and I know we can show them what we’re doing here. I’m just so proud to be a part of Toyota and Procore as my sponsor – all these guys – Leavine Family Racing and Toyota, they all took a heck of a chance on me, and I’m glad we proved what we’re here to do. I’m pretty heartbroken, but appreciative to be here. Thank you so much to all the fans for all the support, just happy to be here.”

JIMMIE JOHNSON SCORES MIRACULOUS TOP 10 AT DAYTONA

Advance Auto Parts Clash winner Jimmie Johnson finished ninth in Sunday’s Daytona 500, but the top-10 result was hardly routine.

Driving in his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points race with new crew chief Kevin Meendering on his pit box, Johnson had been fighting teammate and pole winner William Byron for the lead before heading for pit road on Lap 159.

That’s when a chain-reaction wreck changed the nature of his race. Contact between the Rick Ware Racing cars of Cody Ware and BJ McLeod started a pinball-like sequence that sent the No. 31 Chevrolet of Tyler Reddick sliding toward Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet.

Contact between the cars ripped the left rear quarter panel off Johnson’s Chevy, leaving the fuel coupler dangling without support. With multiple trips to pit road, the crew got the car in running condition, but NASCAR held Johnson for two laps because it took an extra man to fuel the car.

Ultimately, Johnson got both laps back as the highest scored lapped car under two late cautions, and managed to avoid major damage the rest of the way to roll home ninth.

“Yeah, I’ve never been hit like that on pit lane,” Johnson said. “That was the start of the craziness. I don’t know if that kept us out of trouble and got us a good finish or what, but certainly not something that we were anticipating. That just set off a chain reaction of events from there.”

“There was a lot to manage that last 30 laps from an issue with trying to get the fueler neck in place to fuel the car, which resulted in a penalty. Getting those two laps back, working on the car multiple times, multiple crashes, for a first true race together as a group, a really, really brilliant day.”