Who’s in the headline – Kurt Busch guided a badly damaged race car to the finish line first, ending an 0-for-15 drought in the sport’s Great American Race. He was the third of three leaders in the final three laps, taking control when others around him ran out of gas. In a Daytona 500 that was part Demolition Derby, part heart-stopping spectacle he did so with a car that looked like it played bumper cars at the local fair instead of drafting at 200 mph.
During a race where 15 cars failed to finish, victims of a Big One and the new five-minute rule on crash damage Busch’s hopes could have crashed and burned. But the No. 41 team hung on, taped up the sheet metal and never gave up. The crew, even the driver himself didn’t think there was fuel to make it to the finish but in the end, it all worked out.
Busch’s team earned the first 500 win for co-owner Tony Stewart and native Florida crew chief Tony Gibson. It’s also their first for Ford, who’s now earned top honors in four out of the last six Daytona races.
What happened – The racing was intense for the vast majority of the 59th Daytona 500. While the race will be remembered for eight cautions, one of which included a 17-minute red flag, there were four in particular that stood out. Those yellows, falling in a 42-lap stretch from lap 106 through 148 involved 36 of the 40 cars in the field.
Luckily for NASCAR, the wrecks didn’t wreck the excitement of the final 47 laps. They were run caution free, paired with some intense, clean competition amongst the contenders. The end result was 37 lead changes among 18 drivers, including three straight over the final three laps as gas mileage came into play.
Busch became the first driver in the 59-year history of the race to only lead the final lap en route to victory. How? The final push to the checkered flag was a long stint that few drivers felt they could make on fuel. In fact, several drivers ran out during the final 2.5 miles, which led to a strung-out finish and no real serious challenge to Busch for the win.
Kevin Harvick led the most laps (50) but was one of the many casualties of the four-caution spree in the middle of the race. Chase Elliott, who took over the role of favorite after Harvick’s demise started the frantic final three laps of lead changes when his No. 24 ran out of gas.
Why you should care – It is the Daytona 500. There is no other need to care. The race is a restrictor plate event so there is always the potential for crazy wrecks. The intensity in the middle stages destroyed a pile of race cars with only 25 running at the end and 15 on the lead lap.
But the drama was still intense, with side-by-side action, strategy, and fuel causing constant turnover down the stretch. Underdogs mixed with the sport’s elite; youngsters dueled with veterans. The parity the Daytona 500 hoped to display was in full effect over the final few laps.
Even so, top-five finishers Ryan Blaney, Busch and Paul Menard finished the race with cars that looked like they had just run Martinsville, not Daytona. The ability for these chassis to hold up despite multiple hits to the SAFER Barrier and other cars was pretty impressive.
The new points format means Kurt Busch leads the run to the Chase with 56 and five playoff points. Blaney is 12 points in arrears, sitting a career-best second in his second season.
Joey Logano and Harvick are third and fourth, each one point behind the previous driver. Harvick also has a playoff point for winning the race’s second stage. AJ Allmendinger, third in the race rounds out the top five in the standings.
Kyle Busch won the first stage and takes home the other playoff point for the event.
What your friends are talking about – The thing on everyone’s mind going into the weekend was the impact of segments and points. How would it impact the racing? Undoubtedly, with the possible exception of the first segment of the 500, every section of racing this weekend at Daytona International Speedway ended with intense, aggressive racing which frequently led to caution flags. Whether that wide open style translates to Atlanta and beyond is yet to be seen. The combination of points, laps running out and varying strategies made the racing must see action.
When the new rules and formats were announced for the NASCAR national touring series, fans and some media members assumed it was Monster’s doing. The last time a title sponsor changed the Chase was spawned. It was a natural leap to think that the same thing occurred with this new sponsor. In fact Monster folks had no real input. In reality it was the TV partners who had the most influence. In modern NASCAR we all know that suckers walk and money talks. The largest revenue stream for NASCAR, by far, is television. While they didn’t dictate the changes per se, they absolutely had an influence.
Speaking of Monster, the company’s marketing presence at the track was minimalist, but it is still present. A fan pit box at the end of pit lane was done in full Monster livery with refrigerators stuffed with Monster product included. Rob Gronkowski, a Monster athlete was on hand and pushing his Gronk Juice during pre-race press conferences and made an appearance in Victory Lane. It is early in the process and the activation for Monster will certainly evolve.
In a move that strongly solidifies half of Team Penske’s NASCAR driver lineup, Logano signed a contract extension with the organization that will last through 2022. The terminology used was through 2022 and beyond, since the agreement with primary sponsor Shell Pennzoil is now through 2022. Penske is working to sign teammate Brad Keselowski longer term as well to ensure long lasting stability for the top flight company.
One noticeable development at Daytona this weekend was spotty cell service on Sunday. Without the Sprint Cell Boosters on property, people had difficulty getting service when the crowd showed up. While people without Sprint were used to that from the cell booster years, it was a new experience for all of the people who had made the switch to the old title sponsor.
The Daytona 500 was a sellout, at least in the grandstands. That is a good thing, as any time there is enough demand to take full advantage of the capacity of a sports venue people should celebrate it. However, don’t get too excited about it at Daytona. The Daytona Rising Project made the grandstands amazing on the front straight at the World Center of Racing. However, it also made the seats wider. As a result the total capacity on the front straight was reduced. Add in the implosion of the back straight grandstands and the seating availability of the venue was cut in half. We all know that the go-go ’90s and early 2000s are long gone, but selling 100,000 seats to your biggest race of the year isn’t that big of a deal.
Who is mad – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and, by default, Junior Nation, have to be pretty grumpy after the developments during Sunday’s 500. Earnhardt started on the front row, rebounded easily when shuffled back and seemed poised to lead a long portion of the race before he was caught up in the lap 106 caution for Kyle Busch spinning after blowing a tire. Earnhardt’s front row starting car was killed and, while the team attempted repairs, it was too badly damaged and retired. On the plus side Earnhardt took a pretty good hit with no ill effects and is ready to head to Atlanta, a track where he’s run well in the past.
Harvick led early and often on Sunday before he was taken out in the big one on lap 128. Harvick’s car was stout and was heading back to the front after the second segment completion when he was caught up in the incident triggered by Trevor Bayne spinning Jimmie Johnson in turn three. Harvick had been strong all Speedweeks and looked ready to win the Great American Race again before someone else’s aggression caught him out.
Who is happy – Allmendinger was coming at the finish of the race and, while his team thought he was going to be short on fuel, managed to make it to the finish line and score a podium run to kick off the 2017 season. This was Allmendinger’s second career top five at Daytona, matching his third-place run from 2009.
Michael Waltrip rose to fame at Daytona. He hadn’t won a race for years before Dale Earnhardt put him in a DEI car and Waltrip won the 2001 Daytona 500. He went on to win the 500 a second time and a Firecracker 400 at the famous speedway. Waltrip announced this will be his last run in a Cup car and, thanks to missing most of the mayhem Sunday, he crossed the line with an eighth-place finish.
When the checkered flag flew:
- Kurt Busch took home the Harley J. Earl trophy for the 59th Daytona 500. It was Busch’s first win in the Great American Race, his first at Daytona and his first at a Cup Series restrictor plate event.
- The win marks Busch’s 29th victory in 577 Cup starts.
- Busch is ranked 25th all-time in wins, tied with Denny Hamlin.
- It is the first win of the 2017 season for Busch.
- Ryan Blaney finished runner-up to Busch. It is Blaney’s first top-two finish at Daytona in four career starts.
- This is Blaney’s first career top two which ties him with 85 other people for 153rd on the all-time list.
- Allmendinger rounded out the podium for his second career top three at Daytona.
- Allmendinger has five career podium finishes with ties him with 15 other people for 138th on the all-time list.
- Daniel Suarez came home in 29th, failing to finish but earning Rookie of the Race Honors.
What’s In The Cooler
Rating: Zero to six beers (where zero is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
Like it or not, fans want to see wrecks. The 59th Daytona 500 had plenty of them, but it also had some fantastic racing. The lead was swapped 37 times, different people had different tire strategies and, in the end, a last-lap pass for the win had them all on the edge of their seat. While the large number of cars running out of gas at the end eliminated a mad dash for the checkered flag, it was a great race. I give it four ice cold Daytona Beach Brewing Company Some Beach Brown Ales.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The second race of the season stays in the historical home of NASCAR, the Southeast. The series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Quik Trip Folds of Honor 500. The coverage begins at 2:30, Sunday March 5th. The race can be seen on your local FOX affiliate. It can also be heard on local PRN stations or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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