Story by Patrick Reynolds. Photo courtesy USA Today
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla- Kurt Busch won a destructive Daytona 500 which continued the pattern that was set throughout the Friday and Saturday events at the Speedway.
Busch passed Kyle Larson for the lead on the last lap which was the third lead change in the final three circuits. Busch overcame a pit road speeding penalty, almost not having enough fuel to finish the race, being swept up in an accident, and a rearview mirror that had fallen off, to give Tony Stewart his first Daytona 500 win as a team owner.
NASCAR’s new rules giving teams a five-minute time limit to repair crash damage sent some cars out of the event. Busch’s team came close with the crash they were involved in.
“I was thankful that I got through a lot of the wrecks with minimal damage,” said Busch. “And (crew chief Tony) Gibson managed the five-minute clock. Here we are. We’re minutes away from not being able to repair the car and having a clock tell us we can’t compete anymore. We were that close to being eliminated.”
The 500 had four multi-car crashes. In all, 35 of the race’s 40 starters were involved in a crash at some point, including winner Busch. Most cars taking the checkered flag had been patched back together after quick pit crew repairs.
The NASCAR Truck and Xfinity Series races were of the same style with multi-vehicle crashes and damaging most of the entered machines.
The first Daytona 500 “big one” happened on lap 105 when a rear tire on Kyle Busch’s car went down, snapping him around entering turn three. The close running cars of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ty Dillon, Erik Jones, and Matt Kenseth piled in. Kyle Busch drove his damaged car directly to the garage area, which under NASCAR’s new rule, retired the car from the event.
“Goodyear tires just aren’t really good at holding air,” said the critical Busch.
Jones and Kenseth climbed out of their cars after coming to a stop on the infield grass. Earnhardt initially went to pit road for repairs and then ultimately to the garage and out of the race.
The second pileup of the day occurred in the same section of track as the first big incident. Jamie McMurray jumped four-wide to the outside of Jimmie Johnson and then contact resulted between Trevor Bayne’s right front and Johnson’s left rear. Johnson spun around and the impact eliminated Clint Bowyer, D.J. Kennington, Chris Buescher, and Danica Patrick. Suffering damaged were Bayne, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, winner Busch, Brad Keselowski, Larson, Landon Cassill, Cole Whitt, Joey Gase, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Brendan Gaughan, and Matt DiBenedetto.
“I’m thankful enough we didn’t have too much damage,” Kurt Busch said. “The nose was clean, and the tail was clean. Yeah the sides were a bit wrinkled up and you just kind of let the rough edges drag and go for it.”
Ryan Blaney slowed off of turn four on lap 136 to pit with Elliott Sadler close behind. Sadler was hit in the back by Jeffrey Earnhardt and the accordion effect resulted in Ricky Stenhouse, Bayne, and Sadler spinning into the inside wall for the third multi-car crash.
Pileup number four happened on the backstretch with 141 laps complete. McMurray hit Elliott in the rear and turned him sideways then McMurray crashed into the backstretch wall. Swept up with damage were Keselowski, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, Newman, and Cassill.
“Daytona is always about survival,” winner Busch said. “It’s 90 percent ‘protect the car’; 10 percent ‘go for aggression, race hard, and execute at the end.’ There’s things everybody has to go through to win this race and there’s usually not a perfect car anymore. So I’ve let the care go to the side when it comes to trying to protect the car; make sure it doesn’t have too much damage because you always want a perfect car for the most speed at the end- and that’s not the case anymore.”
Third place finisher A.J. Allmendinger said, “Everybody just gets three wide now and it’s hard to make any moves happen. Instead of waiting for 20 or 30 to go, you have to go with 100 to go. You’ve got to get your track position and if you lose it, it’s really hard to get it back. So to me I think that is the bigger deal. Over the last couple of years it’s hard to make moves from the middle of the pack up through the field with 20 to go.”
Second place Blaney used a secondary car after his primary was damaged earlier in Speedweeks and said, “Once we get three wide and you’re twentieth, you can’t go anywhere. There’s no room to make up any ground with the leader blocking every lane. It just kind of stalls everybody out.”
This was the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race run with stages. Kyle Busch and Harvick each won a stage.
The beat up and repaired cars of Busch and Blaney led Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, and Paul Menard to the checkered flag. Sixth through tenth were 2015 winner Logano, Kasey Kahne, Michael Waltrip in his final 500 start, DiBenedetto, and Bayne.
Polesitter Chase Elliott was leading with three laps to go and his engine stumbled as the car’s fuel load ran low. He managed a disappointing 14th place finish.
Busch said, “This moment and this feeling of giddiness… a surprise feeling… reminds me of my first win at Bristol in my second year of racing. It takes you all the way back. You feel like a kid again when you get to Daytona’s Victory Lane.”
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Speedway Report Mondays 7:30 pm ET/ 4:30 pm PT on http://racersreunion.com/podcast-library . Follow on Twitter @SpeedwayPat.