Team relishes win
Daytona 500 win had eluded Stewart
Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500 victory reaches to the top for Stewart-Haas Racing,
BEACH, FLA. Tony DAYTONA Stewart hopped off Clint Bowyer’s pit box and wandered over to another one of Stewart-Haas Racing ’s pit areas with about 80 laps remaining in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
That’s the luxury of being a co-owner of a four-car team. Chances are, even at this crashladen race, you will have at least one car left in contention, and Stewart had Kurt Busch, who earned the coveted title for the first time for himself — and for Stewart.
“If I knew that’s all I had to do to get it done, I would’ve retired a long time ago,” Stewart quipped afterward.
In 17 Daytona 500 starts, Stewart, 45, had his best finish in 2004, when he was second. He missed the 2016 race after breaking his back while riding a sand car in Southern California.
So despite not making a last attempt to win NASCAR’s biggest race as a driver after his retirement at the end of last season, Stewart will take victory any way he can get it.
“I mean, when you’ve grown up all your life as a race car driver, you want to win it as a driver,” Stewart said. “For every driver, there’s a point where you step out of the car and you do something different. To have an opportunity to come back this year as an owner and still have the opportunity to be where we’re at right now, I mean, that’s a pretty exciting feeling.
“It’s what anybody that does anything with a race team, especially owners, that’s what you strive for. You strive to win races, and you strive to win championships. But first and foremost, you want to win the biggest one of the year. That’s out of the box here at Daytona.”
The victory was also the first for longtime crew chief Tony Gib- son, a native of Daytona Beach.
Gibson acknowledged that he was concerned that if there were no cautions (and there weren’t) over the last several laps, Busch’s No. 41 Ford wouldn’t have enough fuel.
As it turned out, contenders Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Paul Menard ran out of gas, while Busch, 38, had enough to drive to victory lane for the first time in 16 tries in “The Great American Race.”
This was also the first race since the Stewart-Haas Racing camp switched from Chevrolet to Ford as an engine partner.
“We had a plan,” Gibson said. “Stewart is sitting beside me. I look to him, and I said, ‘ How much fuel is he actually burning right here running third? Is he running half-throttle? Quarterthrottle?’
“Stewart said, ‘ No, all out, he’s matted. That’s the only way you can run there.’
“I said, ‘Oh, perfect. Not what we wanted to hear.’ He wasn’t helping me any.”
And was Gibson concerned — with all of Stewart’s winless history here — that he joined him atop the pit box?
“No. No. No,” Gibson told USA TODAY Sports. “When you have Tony Stewart joining you, it’s never bad luck.”
“First and foremost, you want to win the biggest one of the year. That’s out of the box here at Daytona.” Tony Stewart, Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner and former driver
From left, team co-owners Tony Stewart and Gene Haas, driver Kurt Busch and crew chief Tony Gibson celebrate after Sunday’s Daytona 500 victory, the team’s first.