Patience is a virtue is a well-known proverbial phrase. That’s exactly what Kurt Busch exuded on Sunday at the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s version of the Super Bowl. He led only one lap, the final one, the one that counted. He finished .228 seconds ahead of Ryan Blaney. AJ Allmendinger came in third. Busch passed Kyle Larson, who ran out of gas. Larson ironically passed the Pole winner and starter of the race, Chase Elliot who finished in 14th, after running out of gas with five laps to go.
NASCAR put on display its first look at racing in three stages. For the Daytona 500, it means that the stages would be 60, 60, and 80 laps. Incentive points are given to the top finishers of each stage. Kyle Busch won the first 60-lap stage and collected the first playoff point in series history. On Lap 105, he spun in Turn 3 when he cut a rear tire. This was a domino effect as he took out Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Dale Jr. was in his first competition after missing the final 18 races of the 2016 season while recovering from a concussion. Kevin Harvick won the second stage. He led 50 of the 200 laps but was knocked out of winning on Lap 128 when he was involved in a 17-car pileup on the backstretch. This new format seemed to have been the cause of producing eight caution flags, the final one coming at lap 153. NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell attributed that to wanting to win the race. “People want to win at Daytona,” said O’Donnell. “And we wanted people racing up front, racing hard for wins. That’s what we expected.” O’Donnell went on to speak about the new format as a whole, “I’d say overall, really pleased. We saw a lot of great, hard racing. Everybody knows that every driver wants to win the Daytona 500. We saw drivers up on the wheel all day long, racing hard, and that’s exactly what we expected from the format.”
The drivers had mixed reviews about the new format. “To me it seemed like you get five laps to go in the stage, everything would kind of amp back up there,” said AJ Allmendinger. “We were running single file in the second stage. Then with three to go, everybody kind of starts getting racing.” Kevin Harvick said, “We just got some cars up there that didn’t need to be up there and (the drivers of them) ended up doing more than their car could do.” It’s not sure whether or not he was referring to Joey Logano, who moved inside to try and pass him during the second stage. Logano would not have made such an attempt if it wasn’t for trying to earn points during the end of that stage. Danica Patrick said, “The stages are definitely going to add to it because not only is it creating a reason to push at certain points in the race that aren’t anything but the last 20, but you’re also seeing it shuffling the grid up.” Even the winner Kurt Busch said, “With the segments, that threw in another wrench. With guys on old tires, guys on new tires, a lot of veterans were taken out. Then there was the Lap 80 wreck when it seemed like that should be the time we all settled in as a group that knows how to race at Daytona. That’s when we had the most wrecks.” Ryan Blaney had a slightly different take on things. He said, “I don’t really see it as a competition caution mainly because you’re benefitted for running in the top 10 at the end of the stage. So you saw some teams and cars group-pit early, just to try to maybe short pit and get out front before the end of the stage and get some points, if there was a caution that fell maybe 10 laps before or earlier. I thought the communication, the strategy side from the drivers to the crew chiefs, all of that was very important. Honestly, I think it’s going to be more important on other racetracks, not the speedways.”
Regardless of who you side with, the fact that there were five crashes between Lap 105 and Lap 150 involving a total of 42 cars, was not good for fans and drivers. Busch persevered thru when so many other notable drivers failed to even finish the race. That included #Se7en time champion Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Danica Patrick, Jamie McMurray and Brad Keselowski. How did Busch manage to have enough fuel to finish the race? He said, “Either we were all going to come to the [finish] line together like we did, or we were going to run out together. We were on the same sequence as the majority of those cars up front. Sometimes, you’ve just got to roll with it.” Busch lost his rear view mirror with 30 laps to go. Maybe this was a good thing, since all he could focus on was the drivers in front of him. He said, “I thought that was on omen. Throw caution to the wind.” As soon as Busch crossed the finished he shouted to his pit crew, “I can’t believe it! I love you guys! Thank you! Thank you!”