Auto racing: Daytona 500 winner Busch puts past in rearview mirror
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It won't matter to Kurt Busch and Stewart-Haas Racing that it took one of the most wildly unpredictable and wreck-filled Daytona 500s in years to put them in Victory Lane.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - It won't matter to Kurt Busch and Stewart-Haas Racing that it took one of the most wildly unpredictable and wreck-filled Daytona 500s in years to put them in Victory Lane.
For the Daytona-cursed driver and his Daytona 500-empty co-owner, Tony Stewart, there's no need to apologize for benefiting from multiple crashes taking out some of NASCAR's biggest names or two leaders running out of gas on the final three laps.
So often, quirky circumstances at the Great American Race will present drivers with an opportunity to take the checkered flag, but not everybody takes advantage of it.
In a 500 that was as much about survival as driver skill, nobody stayed the course and persevered more than Busch. He ran somewhere between fifth and second for 25 laps until pulling away on the final Turn 2, winning a race of attrition that frayed the nerves of both iconic drivers and the son of a racing legend.
"Everyone's stuff was torn up," said Ryan Blaney, who finished a distant second. "There were only a handful of cars left at the end."
Internally, nobody was more torn up about the way it ended than second-year driver Chase Elliott. The only son of two-time 500 winner Bill Elliott, he led laps 175-198 before his fuel gauge sputtered toward empty and resulted in a 14th-place finish. Chase was so despondent over the outcome, he stormed off the track without speaking to the media, though a quick response was funneled through a Chevrolet spokesperson, saying: "It was a disappointing finish to a good day. Just one of those things you can't do anything about."
Ironically, Busch, who has earned a past reputation for being testy and combative with everyone, turned out to be the biggest beneficiary of a ton of misfortune among his competitors.
Multiple crashes put the cars belonging to three two-time 500 champions - Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth - in the garage. They were among 15 drivers who couldn't finish the race, which included Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Danica Patrick, Jamie McMurray, the other Earnhardt (Jeffrey) and the other Busch (Kyle, Kurt's brother).
"Daytona will challenge you mentally and emotionally," Kurt Busch said. "All of the stuff thrown at us today, the car was still going fast. We just kept digging. The circumstances on the track in avoiding wrecks, you have to get lucky."
The carnage was so pervasive, only five drivers had cars that managed to run the entire race without suffering some type of damage. A.J. Allmendinger managed to guide his banged-up Chevrolet to a third-place finish, saying: "I didn't have a frame rail or a single fender that wasn't bent."
Certainly, Kurt Busch has suffered his share of wounds in recent years, not all of it on the track. He was exonerated two years ago of a domestic violence allegation by an ex-girlfriend, a controversy that netted him a three-race suspension by NASCAR while he was under investigation.
But all that seemed like a distant memory Sunday as Kurt was mobbed by his race team in the Daytona infield, then smooched his newlywed wife, Ashley, whom he married last month.
When asked about the adversity he went through, Busch replied during a post-race interview with Ashley at his side: "I have a lot of people that believed in me over the years. I met this woman, Ashley. Thank you, baby."
Sunday's victory, after 12 top-five finishes in 31 previous races at Daytona International Speedway for Busch without winning, was vindication for the driver and his boss. Busch was a three-time runner-up (2003, '05 and '08) at the 500, while Stewart never took the checkered flag in this race in 17 attempts.
"It was a crazy race, even crazier to sit and watch it from a pit box finally," Stewart said. "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 race 18 years and couldn't win it. It's probably the most patient race I've ever seen Kurt Busch run. This is awesome, man."
For the last quarter of the race, Busch gradually pushed his Monster Energy Ford into the top-five as Joey Logano and Elliott held the lead for 36 consecutive laps. Busch kept waiting for his opportunity to get to the front, relying on spotter Tony Raines to let him know what was transpiring behind him because his rear-view mirror had broken.
"Kurt did an amazing job. The mirror folded on him," Stewart said.
Perhaps it was fitting that Busch didn't have a rear-view mirror. All of his Daytona disappointment and the unflattering public scrutiny from an embarrassing accusation is in the distant past.
"I've been through some (bad) patches here and there," Busch said.
Now, with a Daytona 500 victory to go with his one points championship, the newlywed Kurt Busch can look forward. His life is changing for the better.