Roger Diez: Toyota missing from front of Daytona 500 field
I wonder if Busch beer is re-thinking their sponsorship of the Clash after last Sunday’s debacle. Perhaps the Busch Demolition Derby would be a more fitting name for a race that ended with only 1/3 of the original field still running and the winner’s car looking like it was salvaged from Pick and Pull. Erik Jones took the win in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, pushed home by teammate Denny Hamlin. After the Clash carnage, I was fearful of what might happen in the Duels on Thursday, but only a few minor incidents occurred. Unfortunately, they took out two drivers who needed a good finish to make Sunday’s Daytona 500, Daniel Suarez and J.J. Yeley. The difference between making the race and not getting in amounts to about $250,000, so the financial hurt is almost as great as the personal humiliation.
So, the field is set for the Daytona 500, with a curious absence of Toyotas from the front of the grid. The Chevys of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Alex Bowman start on the front row, with Duel winners Joey Logano and William Byron in row two. From there on it’s all Fords and Chevys until we hit row seven, with the JGR Toyotas of Clash winner Jones and Martin Truex Jr. Based on what we saw in the Duels, I anticipate lots of drafting and some desperate moves in the closing laps. And quite possibly a replay of the Clash crashes.
In other Daytona news, the battle between crew chiefs and inspectors took an odd turn before qualifying, as 38 cars failed qualifying inspection, mostly related to rear spoiler angles. After adjusting a piece of inspection equipment and essentially giving teams a do-over in terms of penalties, all cars passed by the third time through.
Seven-time NASCAR Champ Jimmie Johnson took a busman’s holiday mid-week to visit the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) to “observe” the IndyCar test there. He didn’t see much on Tuesday, as rain limited runs to 17 total laps turned. Johnson, who has expressed interest in trying out Indy cars after his retirement at the end of the season, got a much better idea of the differences between NASCAR stockers and open-wheel single-seaters. I’m sure he also put out a few feelers about a limited schedule including the 2021 Indy 500. Wednesday was dry, with lots of laps turned and Penske cars took four of the top three times. Will Power was fastest, 8/10 of a second off his pole time at last year’s COTA race. Alexander Rossi was second quickest for Andretti Autosport (which now includes Andretti Harmon Steinbrenner Racing and Colton Herta). Australian Supercar champion Scott McLaughlin was third in the No. 2 Penske car, with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis slated to be his IndyCar race debut.
But perhaps the most talked-about aspect of the test was the use of the Aeroscreen, a cockpit safety enclosure that looks a bit like the Formula 1 “halo,” but with a wraparound windshield. The look of it will take some getting used to, but it performed well in both wet and dry conditions. There was no fogging, and it cleared immediately after being drenched by puddles on Tuesday. The only concern was glare in late afternoon low sun positions, and IndyCar is working on a fix for that. Reactions from drivers were positive overall especially from drivers like Sebastien Bourdais, who has had a close call with debris. From my perspective, it’s a safety move that is long overdue. Had it been in place a few years earlier Justin Wilson, and very likely Dan Wheldon, would both be with us.