NASCAR Cup: Kurt Busch wins Daytona 500
Kurt Busch celebrates in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway after winning the Daytona 500 on Feb. 26, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Kurt Busch only led one of the 200 laps that made up Sunday’s Daytona 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, but it was the big-money lap — the last one. By taking the lead from Kyle Larson on the final lap, Busch finally won the Daytona 500 on his 17th attempt to win NASCAR’s biggest race.
“There is nothing predictable about this race anymore, and the more years that have gone by that I didn’t win, I kept trying to go back to patterns that I had seen in the past,” Busch said. “My mirror fell off with 30 laps to go, and I couldn’t even see out the back. And I thought that was an omen; throw caution to the win. The more unpredictability that keeps unfolding at the Daytona 500, I predicted it. It just got crazy and wild, and I am so proud of all the drivers at the end. We put on a show for a full fuel run and nobody took each other out, and it was one of the smartest chess games I have seen out there.”
It also gave Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart a Daytona 500 victory as a car owner after he retired from driving in NASCAR without a Daytona 500 win, despite 18 attempts.
“If I had known all I had to do was retire, I would have retired 17 years ago if I knew it was what it took to win the race,” Stewart said. “Kurt did an amazing job. That is the most composed I have ever seen Kurt at the end of a race. He deserved this.”
Ryan Blaney took runner-up honors. A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Paul Menard rounded out the top-five.
Pole sitter Chase Elliott took the lead with 24 laps remaining and was holding off Martin Truex Jr. to maintain the race lead until Elliott ran out of fuel with three laps remaining, handing the lead over to Truex. Kyle Larson then took the lead with two laps to go, but like Elliott, he also ran out of fuel, giving way to Busch on the final lap.
The race was attrition-filled, especially in the 80 laps that made up the last of three stages. Elliott, along with Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, ran up front early in the third stage before a wreck was set off by contact between Jamie McMurray and Johnson. The result was a 16-car wreck that included a spin from Johnson. Johnson headed to the garage with significant damage.
“They started running into the back of me off of turn two and didn’t stop until I crashed an took out the field,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what was going on with the pack behind me, but the whole back straightaway, I had, I think the No. 6 (Trevor Bayne) into the back of me. I was just praying that they would let me go and let me get my rear tires back on the ground and it never happened. Just a lot of aggression way too early, in my opinion.”
Two more wrecks that, combined, collected over a dozen cars came in close succession. With only 50 laps remaining, only five cars of the 40 that started the race hadn’t sustained at least minor crash damage — Austin Dillon, Kahne, Michael Waltrip Waltrip, Almirola and Allmendinger.
Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were winners of the first two 60-lap stages of the race, with Busch winning stage one and Harvick the second stage.
Pit strategies varied in the first two stages, mostly by manufacturer. With the stages longer than a fuel run, Toyotas utilized a strategy of pitting early, while Ford teams split to first two stages in half.
The early-pit strategy of Toyota paid off for Busch in the opening stage, but in the second stage, it left Busch, Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones on the tail-end of the lead lap, ahead of then-leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. on lap 105 when a flat tire on Busch’s No. 18 sent him into a spin and collected Kenseth, Jones, Earnhardt and Ty Dillon. Not only was Busch out of the race, but Earnhardt was retired from the event, his first official race after missing the second half of 2016 because of a concussion.
“I really enjoyed the whole week,” Earnhardt said. “We had a lot of fun. Everybody was looking forward to getting back to the race track. It meant a lot to me. And I’m just sorry we weren’t able to deliver a better result today for all our fans and everybody that was looking forward today. We had a great car. At least we went out leading the race.”
After a 16.5-minute green flag for track clean-up, the race restarted with Fords in nine of the top-10 spots in the running order, led by Harvick. Joey Logano got up to second on the restart, but Harvick was able to hold him off to claim the stage two win. Harvick was eventually collected in the late-race carnage.
Finishing the race sixth through 10th were Joey Logano, Kahne, Michael Waltrip, Matt DiBenedetto and Trevor Bayne.