Young Guns Taken Out In Early Daytona 500 Crash


Harrison Burton (21) and Carson Hocevar (77) crash on lap six of Monday's Daytona 500. (HHP/Chris Owens photo)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For three young guns of the NASCAR Cup Series, a 26-hour wait to start the 66th Daytona 500 yielded just six laps before calamity struck.

Harrison Burton, rookie Carson Hocevar, and Kaz Grala were all eliminated from the Great American Race Monday at Daytona Int’l Speedway due to heavy damage from a multi-car accident in the tri-oval.

The crash began off the exit of turn four, when 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.

After being evaluated and released from the infield care center, Burton said he was still confused why the crash happened as early as it did.

“I don’t know exactly who it was that got knocked down into us, but from what I’ve been told it was just a bad push,” said Burton. “They came across into us, and the grass was so wet that once I got in the grass, I thought I’d be OK and instead I just kept going and going. I felt the contact on the right side … I guess it was a Legacy car, and then we came across the rest of the field. I don’t even think I got wide open because we were saving fuel so early. But it’s frustrating, for sure.

“I’m really sad our day is over because I feel like we had a really fast DEX Imaging-Motorcraft Ford Mustang. It’s a real bummer,” Burton added. “There’s nothing we can do now, though, but move on to next week and do what we can in Atlanta.”

Twenty-one-year-old Hocevar, the youngest driver in this year’s Daytona 500 field, was understandably disappointed after “not even getting to enjoy” his debut start in the Great American Race.

“I’m not happy at all,” Hocevar said. “With how many people we had working on this deal, and the fact I felt like we had a really good car and a really good showing in the Duels, to get six laps … it’s just really disappointing to have our race end so early.

“I had point-one seconds to react, because the wreck happened basically right in my lap,” he continued. “I tried my best not to slide across the grass, but with two-plus days of rain, it was obviously really slick out there. I kept sliding, hit nothing, and was all alone hoping nobody hit me.”

Grala, in a similar situation as Hocevar was, simply could not avoid Burton’s spinning car when it came across the tri-oval banking into his path.

“I saw them in the grass, and you’re always thinking that they might come up and hoping they don’t, but at that time we were three-wide in the pack,” explained Grala. “You’ve got cars on all sides of you, behind you, in front of you, so you’re just filing through and hoping you don’t draw the unlucky straw where they come up in front of you … and, unfortunately for us, they did.”

The lap before the crash, a third lane had begun developing in the pack, creating tight, three-wide racing throughout most of the field. Grala mused that intensity might have contributed to the early chaos.

“As soon as you get three-wide you know that everybody is pushing, but I figured that these guys wouldn’t want to wreck this early,” said Grala. “I don’t know. Maybe somebody did [want to wreck].”

Also involved in the melee were former Daytona 500 winners Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon, as well as Ryan Preece.

Johnson and Preece were able to continue, while Dillon met minimum speed after being on the Damaged Vehicle Policy clock and then took his Chevrolet to the garage for further repairs.

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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.