Kurt Busch used a last-lap pass to win the 59th annual DAYTONA 500 Sunday in a raucous, rough-and-tumble season-opening race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Busch (No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford), a three-time DAYTONA 500 runner-up and the 2004 series champion, made a high-line move coming off the Daytona International Speedway backstretch to pass Kyle Larson (No. 42 Target Chevrolet), as Larson was running out of fuel. Busch beat Ryan Blaney (No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford) at the line by 0.228 seconds, with AJ Allmendinger (Kroger Click List Chevrolet) finishing third.
"My rear-view mirror fell off with 30 laps to go," Busch said. "I said to myself, ‘that’s an omen.’"
The story of this victory comes with a couple of significant sub-plots. Busch’s crew chief Tony Gibson is a native of Daytona Beach, while Busch’s car owner Tony Stewart got a victory in the first race since he retired from driving after the 2016 season.
"I ran this damn race for 17 years and couldn’t win it,’ Stewart said. "Now, to win it as an owner …this is awesome."
Polesitter Chase Elliott (No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet) led 39 laps and appeared headed toward Gatorade Victory Lane, but ran out of fuel himself with three laps remaining, giving the lead to Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 BASS Pro Shops/TRACKER BOATS Toyota), who led for one lap before Blaney assumed the lead. Elliott finished 14th.
Elliott and two-time DAYTONA 500 champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet) started on the front row and led the 40-car field to the green flag. It was a back-to-the-future feel: their famous fathers who were bitter rivals, NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt, started 1-2 four times during their legendary careers.
This race will be remembered, in part, for a series of multi-car incidents that involved many of NASCAR’s biggest names and whittled the field in dramatic fashion.
On Lap 105, Kyle Busch’s car (No. 18 M&M’s Toyota) had a tire go down in Turn 3, causing him to spin and collect five other cars, including Earnhardt’s Chevrolet, which had been leading the race since Lap 97. The right front of Earnhardt’s car rolled atop Busch’s Toyota, causing considerable damage – to the radiator and suspension, primarily – which forced Earnhardt out of the race. Earnhardt, NASCAR’s long-running most popular driver, was racing for the first since the middle of last season when he was sidelined due to concussion-like symptoms.
On Lap 128 in Turn 4, 17 cars were involved in another incident that ended the day for two-time DAYTONA 500 champion Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet), and a strong-running Danica Patrick (No. 10 Aspen Dental Ford), among others. Two other former champions, Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota) and Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford) were able to return after some repairs, with their chances of winning as dented as their cars.
On Lap 142, 12 cars tangled on the backstretch, knocking out two more big names – former DAYTONA 500 champion Jamie McMurray (No. 1 Cessna McDonald’s Chevrolet) and former series champion Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford).
"The more that becomes unpredictable about Daytona, the more it becomes predictable to predict unpredictability," Busch said. "The more I run this race the more I just throw caution to the wind."
Speedweeks 2017 served as the debut for NASCAR’s new national series format that divides races into three stages with extra points awarded to the top-10 finishers in each of the first two stages. The DAYTONA 500 had a 60-60-80 lap division. Kyle Busch led at the end of the first stage, with Harvick leading at the end of the second.
Hamlin, the defending race champion, finished 17th, thwarted in his attempt to become only the fourth driver to win consecutive DAYTONA 500s. (Richard Petty in 1973-74, Cale Yarborough in 1983-84 and Sterling Marlin in 1994-95 are the three to achieve the feat.)
Hamlin was one of 10 former DAYTONA 500 champions in the field, a group that included Michael Waltrip (No. 15 Aaron’s Toyota), the champion in 2001 and ’03 who finished eighth in his final NASCAR race.
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