Race Capsule: Busch finally wins The Great American Race, as it slips away for several others
Two years ago, Kurt Busch's suspension from NASCAR kept him out of the Daytona 500. Now, newly married and back in a Ford, his success comes back full-circle. Busch's 29th-career win is his most important. The only lap he led was the one that mattered. Here is how he and the Tony Gibson-led No. 41 team survived a wild race with cars sputtering to the finish line to win the 59th Great American Race.
Flag-to-flag: NASCAR's debut of its new triple-stage, mid-race points-paying format was inauspicious at first. After major
The entire Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing Toyota teams pitted just 20 or so laps into the 60-lap first stage, hoping to gain track position when others pitted. Rookie Daniel Suarez (29th) cut a tire and sped on pit road and had to pit again and teammate Matt Kenseth (40th) also badly flat-spotted a tire on the same sequence and re-pitted. They each later wrecked, along with most of the field. The strategy worked and Ky. Busch won Stage 1.
The first "Big One" commenced during a round of pit stops on lap 106, when Kyle Busch (38th) cut a rear tire and collected satellite teammate and rookie Erik Jones (39th), Kenseth, rookie Ty Dillon (30th) and outside pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. (37th). A red flag later came out and froze Elliott Sadler (20th) in the lead - he also got damage in the crash.
After the race resumed, Kevin Harvick took the race lead, eventually leading a race-high 50 laps, and won Stage 2, also securing a playoff bonus point like Busch.
The second big wreck broke out on lap 129, just nine laps into Stage 3. McMurray looked inside Jimmie Johnson (34th) and got into him, turning the No. 48 across the field inside the top 10, and collecting 17 cars. Teams put NASCAR's new
The race resumed for a few more laps before Ryan Blaney (2nd) slowed to try and pit and
On lap 142, just one lap after the race went green, McMurray set off another wreck that collected 11 cars. McMurray was done for the day. Last year's 500
One more wreck on lap 151, set off by Joey Gase (23rd) trying to pass Elliott and collecting Brendan Gaughan (11th), allowed the field to get to the pits and get just on the edge of their fuel window to make the finish of the 200-lap race. Elliott got damage in that wreck and the one before it, but the No. 24 repaired it and he drove right back to the front.
Cole Whitt (18th) kept the Tri-Star Motorsports No. 72 Ford on the track and led the field to green. The field soon disposed of him and Aric Almirola (4th), Kyle Larson (12th), and Joey Logano (6th) all took turns up front. But Elliott drove to the outside of Logano and took the lead for 23 laps, as Logano's low lane faded and he fell back.
The top 15 or so rode around in the high lane single-file, with Logano and Blaney trying, at times, to look low and move to the front. Elliott rode with Martin Truex Jr. (13th) 2nd, Ku. Busch 3rd, and Larson 4th. With just a handful of laps left, Larson popped low out of line, had no help, then jumped back up in line ahead of Busch. Then with three laps to go, the rug got pulled out from Elliott.
Truex Jr. looked simply to out-fox the youngster and power into the lead, with Elliott trapped in the low line with no help. But as soon as the pass happened, Elliott
But Busch had enough left in the tank and enough of a lead to get his Daytona 500 win. An emotional Tony Gibson cried on the FOX broadcast from his crew chief seat atop the No. 41 pit box. A jubilant Busch and crew celebrated in the
The race was a strange one, with only a few cars not getting some kind of crash damage and only 25 of the 40 finished. The new stage format made for some exciting pit strategy and amped up the intensity to race for the top 10 and the lead at the lap 60 and 120 marks. The fuel strategy at the end also provided a real wrinkle and some drama in the closing laps.
Top 10: Ku. Busch (the Monster car gets a win in the first-ever Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race); Blaney (got a runner-up finish in a damaged backup car running on fumes); Allmendinger (one of the few cars to not get damage); Aric Almirola (also finished without a scratch); Paul Menard (invisible all day and almost cut a tire early in the race); Logano (just couldn't get help in the end); Kasey Kahne (led laps for the first time since Talladega in October 2015); Michael Waltrip (no damage in any wrecks and a good finish in his final career race); Matt DiBenedetto (first-ever top 10 finish for GoFas Racing); Bayne (nursed his damaged car to be the sixth Ford in the top 10).
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Chase Elliott - As I wrote after the Duels, Elliott showed with his Thursday win that he not only was fast, but he could manage the draft up front. He was overly aggressive, even in the words of his spotter, Eddie D'Hondt, but not so much that the jubilance hurt him. Elliott led 39 laps, second-most in the field, survived crash damage and drove forward again, and likely would have won, if his fuel lasted. As his predecessor in the No. 24, Jeff Gordon, noted: the cars rode the long way around the track in the high line and that probably ran them out. Gordon said more than once that Elliott should have been driving low into the corners...if only Gordon had a radio.
North Korean Missile Dud: Dale Earnhardt Jr. - Elliott's teammate and fellow front row starter is a dud not of his own doing. After missing 2016's second half, Earnhardt Jr. came back competitive in the No. 88, leading eight laps. But the party ended in the Kyle Busch wreck on lap 106. Earnhardt Jr. cut low of the wrecking cars, but clipped Busch, got on two wheels and landed, then scraped against the wall. The No. 88 team tried to fix it, but couldn't.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Kurt Busch - The race winner got some significant right-front damage in the huge lap 129
Ghost Driver: Denny Hamlin - This guy won the 500 last year and won the second Can-Am Duel race Thursday. He was supposed to run up front all day Sunday. But the pit strategy lost him a lap at one point and two multi-car wrecks rendered him uncompetitive. He and I both led the same number of laps.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Matt DiBenedetto - "Guido's" move to GoFas Racing is really a lateral one from the struggling BK Racing operation he drove for the past two seasons. DiBenedetto is not expected to be a contender or even run better than he has before. But even with crash damage, the 25-year-old scored a 9th-place finish, which is the best finish ever for that No. 32 team. Good vibes.
Wheel of Misfortune: Jimmie Johnson - The two-time 500
Jimmie Johnson's Golden Horseshoe: Michael Waltrip - Oh, why not? He finished 8th in his final career race, driving through the big wrecks without a scratch. Then he got stuck in the back of the draft in the closing
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: There is plenty to like about NASCAR's new stage rules and crash repair regulations. But the sport needs to tweak the consistency, execution, and exposure to information.
First, the race should not run seven laps under yellow during the break between stages. Either those laps shouldn't count, or NASCAR should red flag the race. Just chewing up laps where drivers could be racing each other is a waste. Yes, the break is for commercials, but running under yellow for no reason is not what people want to see.
The crash rules are okay and seemed to work well in most instances, but fans and media need easy access to the crash clocks for each team. Even teams seemed confused by how much time they had to fix their cars and under what circumstances they were on the clock. This info should be readily available, so there is transparency in how the sport enforces the rules.
NXS RaceTweet: Ryan Reed
NCWTS RaceTweet: Kaz Grala rode patiently behind his teammates and won the race after a huge wreck and after winning the pole. Every stage 1/2 winner in all three series crashed out this weekend.
Georgia, On My Mind: Chase Elliott's 14th-place result was not quite the best of the Georgia gang all weekend, but it was the most dominant. His chance to win his first
David Ragan got squeezed into the outside wall, while running in the top 10, and finished 25th, after multiple pit stops. He lost an astounding 12 laps in the race and still placed that high in the No.38 Ford. Reed Sorenson did not qualify for the race, after getting wrecked in Thursday's first Duel race.
Saturday's race saw Garrett Smithley get damaged in an early wreck, but
Friday's Camping World Truck Series race was another
Next: Back to reality...and all the gravity it brings. All three series race on the old pavement at the 1.5-mile, lightning fast Atlanta Motor Speedway. The