Hamlin, Keselowski clash at Daytona’s opening weekend – Nascar
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Brad Keselowski checked over the damage to his No. 2 Ford’s right-front fender, the result of a last-lap crunch in a tense contest for the lead with Denny Hamlin‘s No. 11 Toyota in the Advance Auto Parts Clash.
The contact cost Keselowski a victory in a season-opening exhibition that — despite his superspeedway acumen — he’s now 0-for-5 in. But after conferring with crew chief Paul Wolfe and expressing his dismay, he had no regrets in choosing to keep his foot on the gas — and serving notice that in similar circumstances, he’d do it again.
“It’s unfortunate. I had to make the move,” Keselowski said after Sunday’s matinee at Daytona International Speedway. “I know all the other drivers are back watching and they know not to make that block on me again.”
The final-lap collision that scuttled the chances of two of the best restrictor-plate racers in the sport allowed Keselowski’s Team Penske stablemate Joey Logano to scoot to a victory in a race delayed a day by persistent Saturday night rain. Neither Keselowski nor Hamlin seemed especially peeved by their own (lower-case) clash, the last of four incidents in the unofficial opener to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Both drivers started on the front row by virtue of a Friday draw. By the time the white flag flew, they were 1-2 again after combining to lead all but nine of the 75 laps.
But Keselowski had an extra level of headway in the form of Logano, who finally linked up with his teammate in the waning laps to give both drivers an aerodynamic assist. The fast-closing Keselowski dipped to the low side of the track through the first and second turns, forcing Hamlin to chop-block into his path. The two cars wedged together, with Hamlin swerving into a lazy spin off course and Keselowski limping to the checkers to finish a distant sixth.
“I was in a bad spot there,” said Hamlin, who took 13th place in the 17-car invitational field. “He was just coming so much faster than what I was. There’s not much that I could have done to defend.”
If nothing else, the non-points exhibition helped take a stick to the offseason cobwebs ahead of next Sunday’s Daytona 500 (Feb. 26, 2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The revival of “The Clash” name brought back at least a nominal nod to history. The racing brought another reminder of the mercurial nature of the high-speed dance at the 2.5-mile track.
“Yeah, you’re definitely pulling all the strings, but that’s the game,” Keselowski said. “That’s part of what the fun is. You have to be two moves ahead, like a chess game.”
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