Kurt Busch on Daytona 500 win: ‘It's unbelievable’


By Taylor Goins
February 27, 2017

In a race filled with drama, aided by cautions, carnage and clocks (damage clocks, that is), Kurt Busch came out on top when the checkered flag waved in the 59th Annual Daytona 500.


“I'm still blown away by the amount of effort that it takes to win one of these races, let alone the Daytona 500,” Busch said post-race in the media center. “This is very special.”

“To have come here over the years and to have fast cars, to not deliver for the team, you leave here feeling more dejected than any other racetrack.  The years that you have really fast racecars, you end up on the hook, wrecked, those are the worst feelings.”

Busch, the 2003 NASCAR champion, had fallen short of capturing the prestigious Harley J. Earl trophy in his previous 15 attempts. It looked as though he would fall short in his 16th attempt, as well, when he was collected in a 17-car pileup on lap 128.

Busch’s car sustained damage in this collision but was able to continue in the race. Others collected in this accident, including Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick, were not as lucky and were knocked out of the race.

In fact, only 25 cars were able to make it to lap 200 still running, thanks in part to NASCAR’s new crash damage rule (requiring all work to damaged cars to be done on pit road and under the constraints of a five minute clock).

In a race that could be accurately summed up as a race of attrition, only five cars out of the 40 who started the day were able to finish the event without some sort of damage.

THROUGH THE FIELD

Kyle Busch won the first stage (which was all the first segment victory ever under NASCAR’s new format) and NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., was leading near the end of the second stage when Kyle Busch had a tire go down on lap 105 and collected Earnhardt Jr. in the melee, along with Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones.

This incident seemed to be the toppled domino that started the chain reaction of accidents, as the second “big one” occurred soon after. This was the accident that collected Johnson, Harvick and Kurt Busch.

There were a flurry of crashes after this one, as well, and it seemed as if the drivers could not settle down long enough to race for a sustained green flag period.

However, that all changed near the end of the race, as the final caution flag flew on lap 151 of the 200 lap race. With so many drivers having sustained damage by this point (or even having been knocked out of the race), the list of “usual suspects” that have dominated the sport over the last few years were not in contention.

Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Johnson, Kenseth and Harvick were all either out of the race or laps down during the final 47-lap sprint to the checkered flag.

This left the sport’s young talent to battle for racing’s most coveted prize. Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon were all in the lead pack during this run to the finish.

It appeared that Elliott would follow in the famous footsteps of his father, Bill, and make winning the Daytona 500 an Elliott family tradition as he led 39 laps.

Elliott had the lead on lap 197 and Martin Truex Jr. in a wounded car behind him, so his first career victory seemed to be just in reach.

In the last three laps, though, disaster struck for Elliott. He ran out of gas momentarily and was overtaken by Martin Truex Jr. Truex Jr. then ran out of fuel as well, and was passed by Larson.

Larson…well, you guessed it, ran out of fuel as well and relinquished the lead to Kurt Busch on the final lap. Busch then held off a late charge by Ryan Blaney to win his very first Daytona 500.

Busch, who did not lead a lap all day, led the only one that mattered: lap 200.

The victory was a win of redemption for Busch, who has seen his career revived since joining Stewart-Haas racing in 2014. Busch has had an up-and-down career and battled back from a series of NASCAR suspensions, the most recent coming just two days before the 2015 Daytona 500.

Reaching the sport’s pinnacle meant a great deal to the Las Vegas, NV, native, as he showed a great deal of emotion in his post-race ceremony, thanking his new wife and his team for helping him achieve this dream.

“This is an incredible feeling to have all this hard work delivered today and driving into Victory Lane,” Busch said.  “It's unbelievable.”

IMAGE CREDITS:
Chris Graythen and Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images
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