An injury to Kyle Busch in Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race altered the Joe Gibbs Racing lineup prior to today’s Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.
Veteran driver Matt Crafton would fill in for Busch, who suffered a broken right leg and left foot late in Saturday’s race and was unable to take the wheel of his No. 18 M&Ms Crispy Toyota. Crafton would arrive in Daytona late Saturday night and was up early to get fitted for a seat and debrief with crew chief Adam Stevens in preparation for The Great American Race. The change in driver forced Crafton to start the race from the back of the field relinquishing the fourth position which Busch had earned during Thursday’s duel races. Crafton would spend the first half of the race hanging at the back of the field while he became familiar with the Camry’s handling. He would move forward as the laps began to wind down toward the checkered flag and was battling for a spot inside the top 10 late, but a caution would set up a green-white-checker finish and an accident on the final lap would cause Crafton to lose position at the finish. He would go on to finish 18th.
Busch had successful surgery Saturday night on his broken leg and is expected to return to Charlotte this week for additional evaluation by the medical team. Joe Gibbs Racing will provide additional updates on his condition as needed.
Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Express Camry from the back of the field but was able to maneuver his way toward the front over the course of the early portion of the race. Hamlin would race inside the top five through much of the first half of the race. Following a restart with 19 laps to go Hamlin would make his way back to the front of the field in a thrilling multi-lap three wide battle. A late caution would set up a green-white-checker finish and Hamlin would restart second. Unfortunately the cars behind him didn’t get a great jump on the restart to provide the No. 11 FedEx Camry the momentum needed to take the top spot and he would get shuffled back to a fourth-place finish.
It was also a historic day for JGR as the organization officially launched its fourth team with veteran Carl Edwards making his first start for the team and ARRIS sponsoring its first race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Edwards started the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota from the fourth position and ran in the top five for much of the first half of the race. Edwards would lead a lap during a round of green flag pit stops but then was penalized for speeding on pit road on lap 89 and had to serve a pass through penalty. The ARRIS Camry would remain on the lead lap however and Edwards would work his way back to the front of the field to lead on lap 166. Unfortunately his line would not get going and Edwards would be shuffled back. He was fighting for position on the two-lap green-white-checker finish when he got shuffled back and avoided a big final lap wreck to be scored in 23rd at the finish.
Matt Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the 35th position and had proven to have a fast race car all week. The winner of the Sprint Unlimited all-star race the week prior would get caught up in a wreck on lap 42 when the 14 car slide up the track and forced Kenseth to make contact with the wall. Although he was able to keep his Dollar General Camry from race ending damage, the Dollar General team would have to make multiple trips down pit road for repairs. Kenseth would eventually fall two laps off the pace and the cautions needed to try and make his way back on the lead lap never fell at the right times. He would go on to finish the day 35th.
Joey Logano of Penske Racing captured the win, followed by Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Hamlin, and Jimmie Johnson was fifth. There were seven cautions for a total of 26 laps and 27 lead changes among 12 different drivers.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway next week with live coverage on Fox starting Sunday, March 1 at Noon ET (race starts at 1 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.