Kurt Busch took it as a sign of things to come when he lost his rear view mirror with 30 laps to go. It was a good thing he couldn’t look back to see all the cars faltering, running out of fuel behind him as he sped away to win the 59th annual Daytona 500, starting the new era of the Monster Energy Cup series.
Busch only led one lap all day, but it was the most important one of the race. After he went high on Kyle Larson on the white flag lap, he blew by the now-out-of-fuel Larson. That brought Ryan Blaney quickly up to Busch’s bumper, only for him to sputter, falling to the same fuel fate. It was Busch’s 27th Cup win and biggest of his career by far after three assists to other drivers in past 500s.
“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,” said Busch, the 2004 Monster Energy Cup series champ. “My mirror fell off with 30 laps to go and I couldn’t even see out the back. 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 anyone out and it was one of the smartest chess games that I have ever seen out there. All the hard work that Ford and SHR (Stewart-Haas) put into this – this Ford Fusion is in Daytona’s Victory Lane!”
Two laps earlier, it appeared that Chase Elliott was on his way to finally collect his first win when he, like many others, saw flashing fuel lights on his dash, relegating the pole-sitter to 14th as he missed the mark by a few pints of fuel.
The race was plagued eight times with yellow flags for 40 laps, with numerous accidents, including three major ‘big ones’ that left the field wide open to see a first time winner.
Finishing second was Blaney, followed by A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola and Paul Menard to round out the top five.
“I started kind of running out the gas there going into three,” said Blaney, who scored a career high second place. “We started sputtering pretty bad. Luckily made it back to the line and it was a good showing for us. It was a good way to start the year. Stinks to be so close. But I think that’s good momentum for our team, to be good at the beginning of the day, get some damage and be able to rally for a good finish. It looks like everyone ran a race at Martinsville. Everyone’s stuff is torn up. There’s only a handful of cars left at the end.”
Kyle Busch won the first 60-lap stage and collected the first playoff point in series history, but on Lap 105, he spun in Turn three when he cut a rear tire, collecting fellow Toyota drivers Erik Jones and Matt Kenseth, as well as Dale Earnhardt Jr. Busch fell out of the race in 38th-place. Earnhardt took his car to the garage in 37th.
Kevin Harvick led 50 of the 200 laps and took the second stage, but became a victim on Lap 128 in a 17-car pileup on the backstretch, finishing 22nd. It was during also during that caution the sheet metal on Kurt Busch’s car sustained the most damage.
Prior to the race, NASCAR’s CEO and Chairman Brian France made a surprising announcement about blocking in the race by the sport’s leader in the driver’s meeting.
“But what I don’t normally do, and I’m going to do this today is bringing up a competition issue,” said France. “This is for the drivers and what I want you to think about. We realize blocking is part of racing. We understand that. We accept that.
“Do not look for NASCAR when you block somebody out there, and it’s going to happen today. It causes almost all the big incidents. Do not look for NASCAR – you better hope there’s a Good Samaritan behind you who is going to accept that block, because they have that lane and the right to it. And I don’t often make those statements. But I think it’s important today as we go into our most important event to make that really clear with our competitors.”
Now after Daytona’s SpeedWeeks, the points standings show Kurt Busch in the lead by 12 over Ryan Blaney. Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and A.J. Allmendinger follow him in completing the top five.
The Monster Energy Cup series goes to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 next weekend on Sunday, March 5.