Elliott Nips Larson In Daytona 500’s Opening Stage

Elliott

Chase Elliott won the opening stage of Monday's Daytona 500. (Nigel Kinrade Photography)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Holding off his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott took a narrow victory in the first stage of Monday’s rain-postponed Daytona 500.

Elliott led twice for 11 of the first 65 laps at Daytona Int’l Speedway, but it was a last-lap pass of Kyle Busch coming to the green-and-white checkered flag that afforded the driver of the No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 the advantage.

The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion hung Busch out to the low lane off the exit of turn two on lap 65, sticking with Larson and fellow teammate Alex Bowman down the backstretch before Larson made a move for the stage win coming off the fourth corner.

Elliott was able to maintain on the bottom, however, edging out Larson by .048 seconds for his 32nd career Cup Series stage win and second career stage victory in the Great American Race.

It also awarded Elliott 10 championship bonus points toward the regular-season standings.

As strange as it may have looked to fans, a wacky 65-lap opening stage came down to the timing of fuel stops versus fuel saving throughout a 49-lap green flag run to the first stage break.

The moment which led to the early fuel strategies came in the tri-oval on lap six, when a six-car accident broke out that eliminated three young drivers from contention early.

A “bad push” from Brad Keselowski to the back bumper of John Hunter Nemechek got Nemechek’s Legacy Motor Club Toyota out of shape, sending it slamming down into the side of Burton’s Wood Brothers Racing-prepared Ford.

As Burton went skidding toward the infield grass, Hocevar had nowhere to go and was collected before Burton’s car washed back up the racetrack and into traffic.

Kaz Grala struck Burton’s sliding racecar with the nose of his No. 36 Ford before Austin Dillon’s Chevrolet came along in the extreme high lane of the racetrack, t-boning Burton’s machine in a heavy impact.

The trio of Burton, Hocevar, and Grala could not continue, with Hocevar’s damaged car ending up stuck in the wet infield grass before the Portage, Mich., native finally climbed out.

From there, multiple early contenders pitted under yellow at lap nine to top off their fuel tanks, including Daytona 500 polesitter Joey Logano.

That left Christopher Bell’s Toyota in front of the field for the next 22 laps, through a lap-12 restart until defending Cup Series champion Ryan Blaney took control on the 31st lap of the 500-mile race.

Blaney led for nine laps before ceding control and sparking a carousel of varying leaders as fuel tanks and the amount of gas that different drivers had onboard their cars dictated who ran out in front.

Among the drivers out front during the cycle were Michael McDowell, Josh Berry, Elliott, Bubba Wallace, Noah Gragson, and David Ragan, but it was Kyle Busch leading the pack with Elliott in tow that grabbed the point with three to go in the first segment after all the fuel stops cycled themselves out.

Busch maintained command until the final lap of the stage, when Elliott and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates snookered Busch to take control.

Behind Elliott and Larson, Ross Chastain crossed third, followed by Bowman, William Byron, and Busch in a Chevrolet sweep of the top-six spots in the opening stage.

The Toyotas of Denny Hamlin, Bubba Wallace, and Martin Truex Jr. were seventh through ninth, respectively, with Daniel Suarez’s Chevrolet closing the top-10 point-scoring positions at the first stage break.

Logano was the highest-running Ford driver at the end of stage one in 11th place.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.