The 2021 Daytona 500 didn't even make it 15 laps without a massive crash.
Christopher Bell's push of Aric Almirola took out a host of cars on lap 15 of Sunday's race. The crash came less than five minutes before the race was red-flagged for lightning from thunderstorms approaching Daytona International Speedway.
With the incoming rain, it made a ton of sense for drivers to patiently race before the inevitable rain delay. After all, the Daytona 500 is 200 laps. Instead, drivers were aggressive from the start and a push from Kyle Busch to Bell led to a push from Bell to Almirola and Almirola's car got hooked into Alex Bowman. The big one happened from there.
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“We were just getting pushed too hard too early," Almirola said.
Martin Truex Jr., William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Matt Dibenedetto, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Newman and Jamie McMurray were among the 16 cars that were involved in the crash. The race was then red-flagged after 15 laps for the thunderstorm at approximately 3:30 p.m. ET. The race resumed at approximately 9:15 p.m. after a delay over 5 hours and 30 minutes.
It was a crash that made little sense given the context of the race. Sunday's race began with a line of storms approaching Daytona Beach and the gray clouds streaming in from the west were evidence of the increasing possibility of rain.
"I’ve never met a driver that said, ‘Hey, I’m gonna start this 500-mile race and just be super-aggressive,'" David Ragan said after he was in the crash. "We all talk about give and take and making it to the end, but it seems nobody does that once they get out there."
Yet drivers were driving side-by-side with each other and bump drafting like they were on the backstretch in lap 15. While it was understandable that drivers wanted to get a handle on their cars and how they would race with each other, the aggressiveness didn't make sense as it was happening. And it especially doesn't make sense in hindsight.
Bump drafting is an accepted part of passing and racing at Daytona and Talladega. But it also has its time and place. And there are 16 or more drivers who definitely think that lap 15 was not the time for bump drafting.
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