Race to the fin­ish

Kurt Busch uses fi­nal-lap pass to win crash-filled Day­tona 500.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

DAY­TONA BEACH, Fla. — Decked in Mon­ster gear, chug­ging a tall boy of the en­ergy drink as he was flanked by scant­ily clad mod­els, Kurt Busch cel­e­brated the big­gest vic­tory of his rac­ing ca­reer.

Busch used a last-lap pass to win the crash-filled Day­tona 500 on Sun­day in the open­ing race of Mon­ster En­ergy’s new role as ti­tle spon­sor of NAS­CAR’s top se­ries. Busch also is spon­sored by Mon­ster, and the com­pany has strongly stood by him through his rocky ca­reer.

So this was a vic­tory of re­demp­tion for Busch who won the race in his 16th try. He was sus­pended by NAS­CAR two days be­fore the 2015 Day­tona 500 for his off­track be­hav­ior.

“I’ve had a lot of peo­ple that have be­lieved in me through the years, a lot of peo­ple that have sup­ported me,” Busch said. “The more that be­comes un­pre­dictable about Day­tona, the more it

be­comes pre­dictable to pre­dict un­pre­dictabil­ity. 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 wasn’t NAS­CAR’s finest mo­ment, though, as mul­ti­ple ac­ci­dents pared down the field and had a mis­matched group of driv­ers rac­ing for the vic­tory at the end.

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., Paul Me­nard and Kasey Kahne. As they all slipped off the pace, Busch

sailed through for his first Day­tona 500 vic­tory.

It also was the first Day- tona 500 vic­tory for Stew- art-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.

It was a crush­ing de­feat for El­liott, who is de­vel­op­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as a driver un- able to im­me­di­ately digest de­feat. He left the track with­out com­ment in a car driven by his fa­ther, Hall of Famer Bill El­liott.

Ryan Blaney fin­ished sec­ond in a Ford. AJ All­mendinger was third in a Chevro­let, and Aric Almirola was fourth for Richard Petty Mo­tor­sports.

“I can un­der­stand his dis­ap­point­ment, for sure,” Blaney said of El­liott, his friend and ri­val. “You’re lead­ing the race. Looks like you’re go­ing to win the Day­tona 500. You know how he

is, he’s very hard on him­self. But it wasn’t his fault. You can’t help you run out of gas.”

The vic­tory 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.

“What a great win to start off a part­ner­ship,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer. “We were so fast. We knew we had a good chance and Kurt hung in there af­ter get­ting caught up in that crash. He didn’t give up.”

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 vic­tory.

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 about the ag­gres­sive rac­ing be­hind him that trig­gered the ac­ci­dent.

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 chair­man 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 wreck-fests, and France hardly wanted the same spec­ta­cle for his Su­per Bowl.

“This is our big­gest event,” France told the packed driv­ers meet­ing. “What I don’t nor­mally do, and I’m go­ing to do this to­day, is bring up a com­pe­ti­tion is­sue.

“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. 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.”

Block­ing or not, the race was a mess of tan­gled sheet metal and wrecked cars.

AP/CHUCK BURTON

Kurt Busch weaved his way past Kyle Lar­son in turns 1 and 2 on the fi­nal lap to win the Day­tona 500 for the first time in 16 tries Sun­day at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way in Day­tona Beach, Fla.

AP/JOHN CHILTON

Dale Earn­hardt Jr., in the No. 88 car, hits Kyle Busch (18), which caused Erik Jones (77), Matt Kenseth (20) and El­liott Sadler (7) to crash dur­ing Sun­day’s Day­tona 500. Sadler was the only one of the five driv­ers to fin­ish the race af­ter the wreck.

Almirola

Me­nard

Blaney

All­mendinger

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