DAYTONA BEACH, FLA — Coming into Sunday, Kurt Busch was 0-for-16 when it came to winning a Daytona 500, and 0-for-63 when it came to winning a points-paying restrictor plate race. But when the checkered flag flew on the 59th running of the Great American Race, “The Outlaw” led one lap, the final one, and drove his No. 41 Ford into victory lane to win NASCAR’s Super Bowl.
That’s right—Busch earned his first ever points-paying win on a restrictor plate track despite being in the sport for almost two decades and his first win in the 500. He finished second in the race twice (2003 and 2008), but 2017 is off to a great start for KB41.
“THE MORE THAT BECOMES UNPREDICTABLE ABOUT DAYTONA, THE MORE IT BECOMES PREDICTABLE TO PREDICT UNPREDICTABILITY.”
Wait, what?! Say that one five times fast.
That was the first thing Kurt Busch said to FOX upon exiting his beaten and battered race car in victory lane. I don’t know about you, but that mouthful of a sentence isn’t what I would have said. Nevertheless, he’s right. The unpredictability that comes along with this race is unmatched, as well as the gravity of what it means to win the Daytona 500.
“My [rear-view] mirror fell off with 30 laps to go and I couldn’t even see out the back,” said Busch, who passed Kyle Larson on the final lap, told reporters. “And I thought that was an omen. Throw caution to the wind […] 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.”
Yes, you read that right. THE DUDE DROVE WITHOUT A REAR-VIEW MIRROR. AT DAYTONA. That, folks, just doesn’t happen. But Busch made it work, and he’s a winner.
WILD FINAL LAP:
Instead of drivers pushing each other to the limit, going three and four wide, the top ten or so were single file when the white flag flew, looking content to ride. Joey Logano, who ultimately finished sixth, tried to make a move multiple times, but nobody wanted to draft with him. But what made the ending so strange was fuel mileage, as it made its way into the conversation, and eventually affected the finish.
Chase Elliott, who led 39 laps from the pole, was leading going into turn one when his No. 24 Chevrolet ran out of fuel. He ended up finishing 14th. That handed the lead over to the No. 42 of Larson, who was passed by Busch coming out of turn two.
Larson’s car sputtered down the backstretch, as well as eventual second-place finisher Ryan Blaney. Some other cars ran out of fuel coming to the checkered flag, including Martin Truex Jr., who ended up finishing 13th. It all happened in a span of about 25 seconds, and was difficult to keep up with. But the No. 41 had just enough fuel in his tank.
THE RACE (AND SPEEDWEEKS) OF ATTRITION AND SURPRISE NAMES:
35 of the 40 cars that participated in the race sustained some sort of damage. I mean, look at Busch’s car in the photo above. There’s a scrape on the side, bear bond (high-speed duct tape) on the quarter panel and sheet metal out of proportion.
And get this: the top 13 finishers were all representative of different teams. THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN, EITHER! They aren’t your typical names, too. AJ Allmendinger came home third, fourth place was Aric Almirola, fifth was Paul Menard, sixth was Logano, seventh was Kasey Kahne, eighth was two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, the highest finishing Toyota in his final race ever, ninth was Matt DiBenedetto and rounding out the top ten was 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne. The big names are just outside the top 10, right? WRONG.
Brendan Gaughan finished 11th, then Larson, Truex Jr., Elliott, Michael McDowell, Landon Cassill, 2016 winner Denny Hamlin, Cole Whitt, Austin Dillon and Elliott Sadler. Bueller? Bueller? Frye? Bueller?
Kevin Harvick finished 22nd, Brad Keselowski 27th, Daniel Suarez 29th, Clint Bowyer 32nd, Danica Patrick 33rd, Jimmie Johnson 34th and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Erik Jones and Matt Kenseth rounded out the field, finishing 37th-40th.
Well, what happened?
Wrecks happened. There was a total of eight cautions for 30 laps, 20 percent of the race. Busch blew a tire in front of the No. 88, who was leading, which wiped out the Toyota’s and Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson was being bumped down the backstretch by Jamie McMurray, and that triggered a 10+ car pileup including more big names.
With the advent of the new five minute damage repair clock, many cars had their days cut short by accidents beyond repair. Some were their own fault, but for the most part, that’s just racin’ at Daytona.
STAGES MAKE THEIR HIGHLY-ANTICIPATED DEBUT:
Not segments, STAGES. Whatever you want to call them, they made their debut this weekend for the first time in all three series. In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Kyle Busch and Harvick won the first two stages, respectively, and they got rewarded for doing so, like the sanctioning body promised.
To prove that winning a stage matters, look at this example. Harvick finished 22nd but sits fourth in the points standings. Why? Because he earned nine points for finishing second in stage one, 10 points for winning stage two, and 18 points for his final finishing position. NASCAR wanted to reward drivers for their performance throughout races, and that’s exactly what’s happening.
In XFINITY, Sadler won both stages but crashed out of the race, yet, he sits top five in points.
In Trucks, Johnny Sauter was in the same position as Sadler. No more leaving the track empty-handed after being a dominant car or truck. It’s a new era in NASCAR. For the better.
Atlanta Motor Speedway will play host to the second tripleheader in as many weeks for NASCAR. The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (MENCS) will go green on Sunday afternoon on FOX, the Rinnai 250 (NXS) will begin on Saturday afternoon and the Active Pest Control 200 (NCWTS) will go green on Saturday evening from the 1.5-mile tri-oval.
This will be the final race before AMS’ surface gets repaved (RIP). So, let’s savor it!
NOTE: Stay updated on all things NASCAR by listening to Victory Lane every week.