Kurt Busch may have led only one lap Sunday, but he's finally a Daytona 500 champion. In his 16th try at NASCAR's biggest race, Busch was in exactly the right place when Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson both ran out of gas while leading over the last two laps. Busch held off a hard-charging Ryan Blaney on the backstretch (video below) to win a race in which he's finished second three times.
The 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion is in his fourth year with Stewart-Haas Racing, who threw Busch a lifeline after he spent two wilderness seasons running for smaller teams. It was during those two years that Busch went winless for the first time since his rookie year of 2001.
Busch won his championship driving for Roush Racing before joining Penske Racing for the 2006 season. Busch had a somewhat acrimonious exit from Penske following the 2011 season and ran for the now-defunct Phoenix Racing before leaving that team before the end of the 2012 season to join Furniture Row Racing.
Following his signing to Stewart-Haas Racing, Busch took the win at Martinsville in his sixth race with the team. However, Busch missed the first three races of the 2015 season after NASCAR suspended him for allegations of domestic violence. Upon his return, he took two wins en route to an eighth-place finish in the championship and took a single win in 2016 while finishing seventh in the title race.
Busch's win at Daytona is also the first win in the new era of Monster Energy as the series title sponsor. Coincidentally, Monster has been one of Busch's sponsors since last season.
In addition to NASCAR, Busch has also tried his hand in the 24 Hours of Daytona, finishing third in 2008. He also ran the 2014 Indianapolis 500, coming home sixth and winning rookie of the year honors.
For a driver who, at one time, was better known for his temper and feuds with other drivers, Busch has overcome some personal issues as of late and has shown much more composure. Of his 29 series wins, this one has got to be on the top of the list and sets him back up as a main player this season.
While I may not have been a Busch fan in his earlier years, I have really come to like how he races and have found myself pulling for him since his Indy 500 run. You can't argue that he is a hell of a talent and I was glad to see him finally be able to mark this one off his checklist.
Beyond Busch's improbable win Sunday, there has been much talk about the fact that many of the favorites in the race crashed out long before the checkered flag fell. It's been pondered whether this is just a result of the restrictor plate racing we've seen for years or if the segmentation of the race had something to do with it.
Beginning this year, all NASCAR races have been divided into three segments, with points awarded to the top ten finishers of the first two segments. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were the winners of the first two segments at Daytona, but neither were racing for the win at the end.
Officially, 15 cars crashed out of the race, including favorites Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth. During the telecast, it was said that all but five cars had sustained some amount of damage in a wreck during the race. Busch's race-winning car had noticeable damage as it crossed the finish line.
I'm not completely convinced that the big wrecks were directly due to the segment racing, but the format did seem to eliminate many drivers hanging back for most of the race before making banzai moves over the last ten laps or so. When you've got more competitive cars up front racing for the same real estate, you're generally going to see more wrecks, more so at tracks like Daytona or Talladega.
We'll see what happens this weekend when NASCAR hits Atlanta Motor Speedway for races in the Camping World Truck Series, XFINITY Series and Cup Series.
Check out Fuel & Tires next week, when I preview the upcoming Verizon IndyCar Series season.