Once the carnage clears, historians will document the 2017 Daytona 500 by the pieces of sheet metal scattered throughout the iconic superspeedway.
Checkers, wreckers, and rubberneckers driving close to 200 miles an hour, causing all sorts of craziness at Daytona on Sunday afternoon.
From the chaos and the craziness emerged Kurt Busch: Maybe it was the extra kick from his sponsor, Monster Energy, or a little luck when his main rivals ran out of gas, or the fact that at 38, this wasn’t his first restrictor-plate rodeo. Maybe a little bit of everything.
“Daytona is all about survival,” Busch said.
His younger brother, Kyle, started the mayhem when his car blew a tire, taking out the proverbial fan favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kurt then closed the deal, driving with blinders on after his rear-view mirror fell off with 30 laps to go.
But all the needed to do was look ahead, and zero in on the finish line.
“I felt with the car numbers I was looking at, 24 — it wasn’t Jeff Gordon,” Busch said. “I didn’t see [Matt] Kenseth up there. I didn’t see [Kevin] Harvick up there. Young guys. All these guys. I’m like, ‘a-ha. I’m the old bull here. I just have to take my time.’ ‘’
One of those young’uns, Hendrick Motorsports rival Chase Elliott, led 39 laps and had the most dominant car down the stretch until his Chevy ran out of gas with three laps left. Then it was Kyle Larson’s to run on empty.
But not Busch, who led the only lap that mattered. Neither Ryan Blaney nor AJ Allmendinger had enough horsepower to make a serious run at Busch, who won for the 29th time and became a first-time winner at Daytona.
It’s been a recent run of fortuitous luck and good fortune for Busch, who married Ashley Van Metre in early January. He also happened to score Steve Tyler and Aerosmith to play at the reception, opening with their iconic “Dream On” hit.
Busch, 38, connected the dots to family ties after the win, mentioning Ashley several times in his postrace presser, and honoring his father by recalling how his words helped him get through the rear-view mirror issue.
“He would remind me that you go off intuition and the sound of other cars,” Busch said.
It got a lot less noisy as the day progressed. The 59th annual Daytona 500 was indeed a race of wrecks and attrition: Only 15 cars remained on the lead lap.
Those not making the cut included Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson, Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suárez, among others. The collateral damage included NASCAR’s executives, who had prime seats to a parade of its stars leaving the sport’s most prestigious race of the season.
The Great American Race = Buzz kill.
“I had a good car, boys,” Earnhardt told his crew after he was collected in the early mess. “Sorry about that for ya. I was having a good time today.”
Earnhardt and Kenseth got whacked after Kyle Busch lost control of his No. 18 Toyota after a blown rear tire. The car hit the wall along Turn 3, and took out a number of drivers.
With 48 laps still left, 35 of 40 cars had received damage.
That included Johnson, the seven-time Cup champion, whose Lowe’s Chevy went spinning after contact by Jamie McMurray’s car.
“That could have been avoided and it wasn’t called for,” Johnson said. “… “We’ll go to Atlanta next week and see what we can do there.”
On to Atlanta it is for a lot of drivers.
As for the Daytona deal, it was an ominous and boisterous start for a revamped playoff format that had played to mixed reviews before anyone completed their first lap.
Industry leaders — including a handful of drivers — came together during the offseason and blew up the Chase format model. Starting in Daytona, races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series will consist of three stages, with championship implications in each stage.
The new format encouraged more aggressive driving because of points in play for stage victories, and the carnage on Sunday was reflective of the amped up format.
“It was crazy to say the least,” said Joey Logano, who finished sixth. “Right after the last segment it was like everyone turned up the wick a little bit and at the end it was like it burned out.”
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