Team rel­ishes win

Day­tona 500 win had eluded Ste­wart

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - A.J. Perez @bya­jperez USA TO­DAY Sports

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

BUSCH, LEFT, AND TEAM CO-OWNER TONY STE­WART BY GETTY IMAGES

JASEN VINLOVE, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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.

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