Rajan Khanna/News Editor
The 2018 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series has officially begun with the checkered flag of the Advanced Auto Parts Clash at Daytona falling for Brad Keselowski. The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford held on the lead for the closing laps while running mostly unopposed in the 75-lap event. The Advanced Auto Parts Clash at Daytona, formally known as the Sprint Unlimited, is an exhibition event traditionally held the weekend before the Daytona 500. The race is usually on Saturday night instead of Sunday afternoon, but after last year’s rain-delayed event moved to Sunday, the decision was made to move it to Sunday permanently. The atmosphere at the track was electrifying. The fans were eager to get the race started after the offseason. After driver introductions concluded, the most famous words in motorsports filled the stadium, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet was on pole position after a random draw put him and Denny Hamlin on the front row of the field. The green flag dropped, and Hamlin challenged Dillon for the lead after lap one. Hamlin charged on the outside to take the lead away and hold on to it until Chase Elliott took it away halfway through the first segment. They split the race into two portions, one twenty-five lap segment, and one fifty lap segment. The field raced hard throughout the entire first part, going three-wide almost four rows deep. Elliott’s lead was taken away by Joey Logano on lap 24 just before most of the field dropped onto pit road. Pit stops went flawlessly for most teams. They had to get used to the new rules on pit stops, limiting five people over the wall to service the car, down from the standard six last year. The fastest pit stop was around 15.9 seconds during The Clash, far off from the usual 12-second pit stops in the past. Not long after the race went green for the second segment, the No. 1 car of Jamie McMurray crashed after contact with Kurt Busch in the quarter panel. He finished in last place. The rest of the race showed Team Penske’s strength on restrictor plate races. Brad Keselowski held on the lead for the final 35 laps to win the race comfortably with Ford sweeping the top four. The field stayed in single file until lap 74 when Kyle Larson spun Jimmie Johnson, triggering a multi-car accident and guaranteeing the win for Keselowski. His win marks his first victory during Speedweeks at Daytona. It will be interesting to see what momentum this race will give the No. 2 team into the Can-Am Duel and the Daytona 500.