By: Evan Lachnit
As the sun got lower and lower in the horizon Sunday afternoon in Daytona Beach, one thing became very clear, there would be a first time winner of the Great American Race.
In what was an exciting and crash riddled Daytona 500, Kurt Busch was able to use his experience and exercise patients on his way to his first ever Daytona 500 win as darkness fell.
Busch led just one lap on his way to victory Sunday afternoon, but it was the only one that truly mattered.
Busch was able to out-duel some of the top up and coming drivers in the sport.
With 10 laps left, second year driver Chase Elliott led the race but later ran out of gas, coming up just short of his first ever victory in the Monster Energy Cup Series, one that would have been career defining.
As the field took the white flag, 24 year-old Kyle Larson led the race. Larson, who has one victory in the Monster Energy Cup Series (last August at Michigan) also ran out of gas on the back stretch during the final lap.
Larson sputtering down the back straight away with just over a mile left in the race opened the door for Kurt Busch to seize a moment he had been oh-so-close to three times.
Busch finished in second place three times prior in NASCAR’s Super Bowl (2003, 2005, and 2008).
Just two years ago in 2015, Busch was suspended for the Daytona 500 and the following two races as NASCAR investigated allegations of domestic violence against Busch from the previous September. No charges were filed and Busch was reinstated for the fourth race of the 2015 season.
It is hard to define Busch’s career into a few lines or paragraphs.
This is Busch’s 18th season in NASCAR’s top division, getting his start at the end of the 2000 season driving in seven of the last eight races for Roush Racing.
By 2004, Busch was a champion in NASCAR winning, what was called at the time, the Nextel Cup Series Championship. Busch beat Jimmie Johnson by just eight points in the Chase to deny Johnson of his first championship (oh what could have been for the now seven-time champion Johnson) and bring home the championship.
In 2006, Busch was pegged by Roger Penske to replace Rusty Wallace in the famed “Blue Deuce”. By 2011, after more than a handful of incidents on and off the track, Penske fired Busch.
For two years, Busch drove for smaller, one car teams before making the jump to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.
Ironically, Busch’s move to SHR made Tony Stewart his boss and teammate. Stewart, someone who Busch had famously butted heads with on the track as a rival for years.
Stewart who famously never won the Daytona 500 as a driver, is now a champion as an owner because of Busch.
And it would seem that in his fourth season with SHR, Busch has figured it out and is back to being one of the top drivers in the sport.
He has improved his position in the championship standings the past three years, finishing 12th in 2014, 8th in 2015 and 7th last year.
Busch, who was recently married in January, had 25-1 odds heading into Sunday’s season opener, being an afterthought to many for a chance to win.
The hall of fame caliber driver may have cemented his legacy yesterday winning a race that defines a career and forever leads your introduction as Daytona 500 Champion.