Kurt Busch throws cau­tion to the wind to win un­pre­dictable, crash-filled Day­tona 500

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JENNA FRYER

DAY­TONA BEACH, FLA. — Kurt Busch had a mon­ster start to the sea­son with a last-lap pass to win the crash-filled Day­tona 500.

Busch is spon­sored by Mon­ster En­ergy, which kicked off its first sea­son as the ti­tle spon­sor for NAS­CAR’s top se­ries Sun­day with the sea­sonopener. It wasn’t NAS­CAR finest mo­ment, though, as mul­ti­ple ac­ci­dents pared down the field and had a mis­matched group of driv­ers rac­ing for the win at the end.

“The more that be­comes un­pre­dictable about Day­tona, the more it be­comes pre­dictable to pre­dict un­pre­dictabil­ity,” Busch said. “This car’s com­pletely thrashed. There’s not a straight panel on it. The strat­egy to­day, who knew what to pit when, what seg­ments were what. Ev­ery­body’s wreck­ing as soon as we’re done with the sec­ond seg­ment.

“The more that I’ve run this race, the more that I just throw cau­tion to the wind, let it rip and just el­bows out. That’s what we did.”

It ap­peared to be pole-sit­ter Chase El­liott’s race to lose, then he ran out of gas.

So did Kyle Lar­son, Martin Truex Jr. and Paul Me­nard. As they all slipped off the pace, Busch sailed through for his first ca­reer Day­tona 500 vic­tory.

It also was the first Day­tona 500 win for Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing, which is co-owned by Tony Ste­wart. The three-time cham­pion re­tired at the end of last sea­son and watched his four cars race from the pits.

“I ran this damn race (17) years and couldn’t win it, so fi­nally won it as an owner,” Ste­wart said.

Ryan Blaney fin­ished sec­ond in a Ford.

AJ All­mendinger was third in a Chevro­let, and Aric Almirola was fourth for Richard Petty Mo­tor­sports.

The win was a huge boost for Ford, which lured Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing away from Chevro­let this sea­son and cel­e­brated the coup with its sec­ond Day­tona 500 vic­tory in three years. Joey Logano won in a Ford in 2015.

The first points race of the Mon­ster era was run un­der a new for­mat that split the 500 miles into three stages.

Kyle Busch won the first stage, Kevin Har­vick won the sec­ond stage and nei­ther was a con­tender for the win. NAS­CAR also this year passed a rule that gave teams just five min­utes to re­pair any dam­age on their cars or they were forced to re­tire.

But the race was slowed by wreck af­ter wreck af­ter wreck, in­clud­ing a 17-car ac­ci­dent at the start of the fi­nal stage that ended the race for seven-time and reign­ing se­ries cham­pion Jim­mie John­son and Dan­ica Pa­trick. It was a par­tic­u­larly rough in­ci­dent for Pa­trick and her Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing team, which had all four of its cars col­lected in the ac­ci­dent.

“Just seems like that could have been avoided and was un­called for,” John­son said of the ag­gres­sive rac­ing be­hind him that trig­gered the ac­ci­dent.

D.J. Ken­ning­ton of St. Thomas, Ont., Canada’s first driver in the Day­tona 500 since 1988, also had his race short­ened by the pile up. He fin­ished in 36th place. “Thanks to all who helped make this pos­si­ble! Just couldn’t clear the wreck did our best,” Ken­ning­ton tweeted.

Pa­trick wasn’t sure how bad her car was dam­aged, but knew it couldn’t be fixed in the five min­utes NAS­CAR now al­lots un­der a new rule this sea­son. Also elim­i­nated in the wreck was new SHR team­mate Clint Bowyer.

“The five-minute clock is an in­ter­est­ing new el­e­ment,” she said. “I don’t know if it is good or bad, but we don’t want to go on track with stuff that isn’t safe. It is a real shame. I feel like we could have been a con­tender at the end, for sure.”

Kurt Busch was able to con­tinue, but most of the top con­tenders found them­selves on the out­side look­ing in.

“Some years I think we have it where we run here and no­body wrecks and it’s great rac­ing,” said Brad Ke­selowski, “and then you have other years like this where ev­ery­body wrecks all the time.”

Roughly two hours be­fore the race, NAS­CAR chair Brian France is­sued driv­ers a stern warn­ing about block­ing. France rarely wades into com­pe­ti­tion mat­ters, es­pe­cially in pub­lic, but stepped to the mi­cro­phone to ad­mon­ish the driv­ers. The Truck Se­ries and Xfin­ity Se­ries races were sloppy wreck­fests, and France hardly wanted the same spec­ta­cle for his Su­per Bowl.

JERRY MARKLAND, GETTY IM­AGES

Kyle Busch (18), Erik Jones (77), Matt Kenseth (20) and Ty Dil­lon (13) are in­volved in the first multi-car crash at Sun­day’s 59th run­ning of the Day­tona 500.

SEAN GARD­NER, GETTY IM­AGES

Cars whip by the start-fin­ish line at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way dur­ing Sun­day’s 59th Day­tona 500.

JOE BURBANK, OR­LANDO SENTINEL

Ricky Sten­house Jr. (17), Trevor Bayne (6) and El­liott Sadler (7) get side­ways com­ing out of Turn 4.

BRIAN LAWDERMILK, GETTY IM­AGES

The Air Force Thun­der­birds per­form a flyover prior to the 59th an­nual Day­tona 500 at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

CHUCK BUR­TON, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Kurt Busch cel­e­brates in Vic­tory Lane af­ter his last-lap cham­pi­onship run.

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