Highlights from the 59th running of the Daytona 500, Sunday at Daytona International Speedway:
WINNER: Kurt Busch finally broke through in NASCAR’s grandest event to imprint his name in the record books.
The driver of the No. 41 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing got his first Daytona 500 win in 17 tries, weaving his way to the lead in a wild finish that saw pole-sitter Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson run out of gas.
"The more it becomes unpredictable it becomes at Daytona, the more predictable it becomes in its unpredictability," Busch opined in victory lane.
"The more I run this race, the more I've learned to throw caution to the wind and let it rip," said Busch, the 2004 Cup Series champion who finished second in the Daytona 500 on three occasions before finally tasting victory. "The performace of this team has been incredible. My rearview mirror fell off with 30 to go, and I knew I had to drive defensively. I couldn't even see the cars behind me, just heard my spotter in my ear, once we made that pass. It's just unbelievable to have all this teamwork to get us in victory lane."
Busch gives sponsor Monster Energy, which is his primary and the new Cup Series sponsor, plenty to celebrate in its opening race. He also made a winner of team co-owner Tony Stewart.
“I ran this damn race 18 years and couldn’t win it,” Stewart said. “Finally won it as an owner. What an awesome job those last couple laps. It’s probably the most patient race I’ve ever watched Kurt Busch run.”
Ryan Blaney finished second, AJ Allmendinger third, Aric Almirola fourth and Paul Menard fifth. Joey Logano overcame a loose wheel very early in the race to come home sixth, Kasey Kahne finished seventh, Michael Waltrip, running in his 30th and final Daytona 500, was eighth, Matt DiBenedetto ninth and Trevor Bayne 10th.
UPSETS: If drivers continue to be this aggressive for stage wins and top-10 finishes — the top 10 at the end of Stage 1 and Stage 2 are awarded points — get ready for some different names in victory lane. Several big names were collected Sunday, including Earnhardt. Two-time Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson, two-time winner Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Danica Patrick. Granted, this was a restrictor-plate race, where drafting and bumping come into play. But every point counts in this new system.
STAGE 2 (61-120): Kevin Harvick won the second stage. Earnhardt and Elliott Sadler jockeyed for the front and Earnhardt was leading the pack by Lap 100. Busch lost it between Turns 3 and 4 when a tire went down. He collected Earnhardt, whose right front was damaged when he briefly went up over Busch’s car.
RAIN ON TOYOTA PARADE: Busch was the early leader of the Joe Gibbs Racing contingent, but the team that looked dominant in qualifying races and practices took a heavy blow in Stage 2, when Busch’s flat tire also collected Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones, who drives for fellow Toyota team Furniture Row Racing.
STAGE 1 (60 laps): Kyle Busch won the opening stage of the Cup season, pulling ahead of Ryan Blaney to capture 10 regular-season points and one bonus point, which will carry over into the 10-race playoffs, should Busch qualify. Pole-sitter Chase Elliott Earnhardt started second but fell back in the pack early, hovering around 10th place until working his way back up to fifth.
NEW RULES: The days of patching your car together on multiple pit stops and going back out into the fray are done, at least for now. As wreck after wreck collected big names and former Daytona 500 winners, fans reacted with ‘Yeah!’ or ‘Oh no!’ as their favorite drivers went behind the wall. And under a new rule to prevent cars with too much damage from returning to the track to shed more debris, now cars that cannot be repaired in a five-minute window on pit road head to the garage. Race over.