Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., and Others Describe the Intense Closing Laps of the Daytona 500 and What They’re Thinking to Avoid ‘The Big One’
The Daytona 500 is known for “The Big One.” That crash can happen anytime in the race but often occurs in the closing laps as drivers jockey for position and try to make a move to win NASCAR’s biggest race.
Unsurprisingly, the intensity toward the end of the race dramatically increases. How intense? During Daytona 500 Media Day, we posed that question to multiple drivers, including Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., and Aric Almirola. Their responses were eye-opening.
Joey Logano: ‘Chances are you’re going for a ride’
Joey Logano knows what it takes to win the Daytona 500. The two-time Cup Series champion won the Great American Race in 2015. So what is he thinking at the end when the intensity picks up?
“You feel it coming. You kind of know,” Logano admitted. “If you’re not in the front three — if you’re like stuck in seventh, eighth, and you’re two-wide and you can’t get out. You know you’re in. It’s like, well, shoot. It’s five to go and you’re not leading it ain’t looking pretty for you.
“It’s one of those pull the belts tighter just in case because you’re probably going for a ride at some point. The chances are you’re going for a ride. That’s a crappy feeling, I tell you that much. It ain’t the spot that you want to be. Get to the front.”
Christopher Bell: ‘Intensity just skyrockets’
Christopher Bell is racing in his fourth Daytona 500. His best finish thus far is 16th in 2021.
“It’s unbelievable and anyone that hasn’t driven in a Cup Series speedway race, I don’t feel like they understand the difference between lap one, or even lap 150 to lap 200,” Bell said. “It’s just like the light switch goes off and the intensity just skyrockets and guys start pushing and shoving where you’re not supposed to be pushing and shoving.
“The thing that I hate about speedway racing is you don’t feel like you’re in control at those moments when you’re getting pushed around. It changes dramatically in the last couple of laps.”
Martin Truex Jr.: ‘A lot of times you know things are pretty wild’
Martin Truex Jr. is the current active driver who has gone the longest without a Daytona 500 win. This year will be the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s 19th attempt to win the Harley J. Earl Trophy. He describes the intensity of the final laps and how sometimes the decision to make a move can backfire.
“You can tell when it’s coming usually. Sometimes you can’t but a lot of times you know things are pretty wild,” Truex acknowledged. “The hard part is you feel like at times something is going to happen and you get out of the gas or you try to drop back and it doesn’t happen, then you’ve just put yourself behind.
“It’s so hard to make those decisions at the right time, like, I’m going to bail out and go to the back for a while. It’s so hard to get through the field with this car. You can’t just say, OK, I’m going to go to the back and ride for a while and I’m going to wait until the last stage and I’m going to go to the front because then they can just crash because everybody wants to go to the front at the same time.
“You just never know. You never know where it’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen. I think the safest spot is always to try to stay near the front.”
Erik Jones: ‘I always look at it you’re kind of gambling’
Erik Jones is competing in his seventh Daytona 500. His career-best finish was third in 2019.
“I always look at it you’re kind of gambling right,” Jones said. “You go over to the roulette table and you say, you know what, I think black is going to hit this time. There’s no way it’s going to be red and that’s how you’re kind of racing.
“You’re just going up and hoping that black hits that time. If red hits you know you’re going to be caught in that big wreck and you’re hoping it’s not going to happen. That’s the way I’ve always looked at it and you just got to hope it’s going to work out sometimes. But the farther up you can be toward the front, a lot of times the better odds you got to be ahead of the wreck.”
Aric Almirola: ‘It’s gotten really intense really fast in just one straightaway’
Aric Almirola had one of his best career finishes in the 2022 Daytona 500, finishing fifth. His No. 10 car already showed speed in winning one of the Duels earlier this week.
“You feel it. It’s hard to explain,” Almirola said. “There’s not a lap number that everybody is like, ‘Alright, it’s time to flip the switch. We’re going to go nuts now.’
“It really just happens. It evolves. It’s very organic and one guy makes an aggressive move. Then another guy counters. Then somebody blocks. The next thing you know it’s gotten really intense really fast in just one straightaway. And so you have to anticipate that. You have to feel the energy building. You have to see what’s going on around you. You have to be aware of your surroundings.
“And when that starts to happen, you have a choice to make. Are you going to stay in the thick of it and try and maneuver your way through the intensity to put yourself in position? Or, are you going to bail? And a lot of that has to do with where you’re at in the race. What position are you running? Are you six rows back trying to create something or are you three rows back and got a shot at the lead? All those things stack up to making the decision.”
What decisions will the drivers make at the end of the 2023 Daytona 500? Whatever they are, you know it’s going to be intense, action-packed, and as Logano suggested, they’ll likely be tightening those belts just in case they go for a ride.