Photo by: Jonathan Ferrey
2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kurt Busch can now add Daytona 500 champion to his resume. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver acquired the lead on the last lap of The Great American Race, and despite reports that he would be short on fuel, made it to the end .228 seconds ahead of the No. 21 of Ryan Blaney.
Busch led only one lap Sunday afternoon, but it was by far the most important one. Busch, who is sponsored by the new series title sponsor, persevered with a damaged car and a missing rear view mirror in the final stage of the historic event.
“There is nothing predictable about this race any more, 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 wind.”
And he did. Busch gained the momentum that his fellow drivers while running out of fuel. Pole sitter Chase Elliott finished 14th after falling short of fuel on the final lap.
“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. All the hard work that Ford and SHR put into this — this Ford Fusion is in Daytona’s Victory Lane!”
Busch’s brother, Kyle Busch, won the first 60-lap stage but spun on Lap 105 because of a punctured tire. He collected teammate Matt Kenseth and NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was racing for the first time since July after missing the second half of the 2016 season due to a concussion. Earnhardt took his Nationwide Chevrolet to the garage and finished in the 37th position.
Stage 2 winner Kevin Harvick was involved in a multi-car wreck on Lap 128 when Jamie McMurray made it four wide, causing the defending champion Jimmie Johnson to spin. The incident was the cause of the eventual race winner’s damage that also destroyed the No. 14 of Clint Bowyer.
The newlywed driver, who married his wife Ashley in the offseason, brought Stewart-Haas Racing it’s first Ford victory since making the manufacturer switch. The win is the 29th of Busch’s career and the first for co-owner Tony Stewart since retirement.
“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 … I ran this damn race for 18 years and didn’t win it.”