Did rules changes cause Daytona 500 to crash and burn?

Jimmie Johnson (48), Clint Bowyer (14), Chris Buescher (37), Kevin Harvick (4) and Danica Patrick (10) collide in a multi-car wreck between Turns 3 and 4, as Martin Truex Jr. (78) and Aric Almirola (43) drive past, during the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Kurt Busch won this year’s Daytona 500, but that probably won’t be what people remember about it.

What will they remember? Wrecks, and lots of them.

Kyle Busch caused a five-car crash that knocked out fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr.:

About 25 laps later, Jimmie Johnson set off a wreck that ensnared Danica Patrick and Kevin Harvick, among others:

About 15 laps later, Chase Elliott caused a pile-up that involved Jamie McMurray, among others:

Reaction to the crashes varied:

In all, 15 of the 40 drivers were out of the race with about a quarter of the 200 laps remaining.

Patrick blamed the new stages for the carnage:

“The stages are definitely going to add to it because not only is it creating a reason to push at certain points in the race that aren’t anything but the last 20, but you’re also seeing it shuffling the grid up.”

She said another rules change didn’t add to the fun, either. Following an accident, teams that must return to pit road have a five-minute time limit for repairs. If cars can’t be fixed and return to the track at minimum speed within that time, they’re out of the race.

“What you’re seeing is the product of the five-minute clock. You’re seeing a product of the new rules of having to go to the in-field care center if you don’t finish the race. … I’m totally fine. I drove my car back to the garage. I never would have come to the in-field care center if not for the new protocols, so I’m all for being all well, but it’s probably a bit much.”

NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell, not surprisingly, defended the rules changes:

“I’d say overall, really pleased. We saw a lot of great, hard racing. Everybody knows that every driver wants to win the Daytona 500. We saw drivers up on the wheel all day long, racing hard, and that’s exactly what we expected from the format. … People want to win at Daytona. And we wanted people racing up front, racing hard for wins. That’s what we expected. In terms of good, hard racing, that’s what you saw all three days.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Mike Bianchi agrees with O’Donnell. He loved Sunday’s race:

I don’t care what the belly-achers and faultfinders say, this was one of the most exciting Daytona 500s I’ve ever seen. So what if many of the sport’s biggest names … were knocked out by the multiple crashes? So what if half the field didn’t finish and 35 of the 40 cars on the grid suffered varying amounts of car carnage during the course of this 500-mile test of survival and attrition? Who cares if pole-sitter Chase Elliott and race leader Kyle Larson both ran out of gas on the last lap? … What happened on Sunday is why the Daytona 500 remains one of the most breathtaking, hair-raising, nail-biting events in all of sports. It is why the Daytona 500 is by far Central Florida’s most iconic, supersonic sporting event.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Drew Davison says the crashes made for a lackluster race:

At one point, Cole Whitt and Aric Almirola were running 1-2. That couldn’t have been good for TV ratings. It looked like Chase Elliott, a “big name of the future,” might salvage a crash-filled race. He had the lead in the final laps until running out of gas and losing it with three laps to go. … It’s fair to wonder just how much this race resonated with your casual sports fan with so many big names dropping out early. Just think — 53-year-old Michael Waltrip finished eighth. Waltrip had an average finish of 32nd in his last five Daytona 500s. Earnhardt, the sport’s most popular driver, completed just over half of the 200 laps (106). Patrick finished only 128 laps, Johnson 127 and Kyle Busch 103.

USA Today’s Brant James agrees with Davison:

Busch’s victory turned into a resolution that will leave many unfulfilled. And that has nothing to do with his often tempestuous past. It has everything to do with NASCAR dodging the potential calamity of an absurd race when it needed a showpiece.

Fox Sports’ Tom Jensen tries to have it both ways:

This was the first weekend that NASCAR broke races into stages, and in the Daytona 500, they did exactly what they were intended to do: They made the racing more compelling at the end of each stage. That’s great.  What was not so great was the fact that there five crashes between Lap 105 and Lap 150 involving a total of 42 cars, which means obviously some drivers were involved in multiple incidents. That stretch of racing was just plain ugly.

What do you think? Did all of the crashes make the Daytona 500 more or less exciting than in previous years?

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