The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season is upon us, and just like every other NASCAR season, it begins under the Florida Sun.
2017 brings many changes to NASCAR. Monster Energy takes over as the title sponsor, a brand-new Stage format for all races, and new teams and drivers begin their journey to Homestead. Daytona also saw a familiar face with Dale Earnhardt Jr. starting front row with teammate Chase Elliott.
Former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson got the 2017 NASCAR Season underway as the honorary starter for the Great American Race.
The race debuted NASCAR’s brand new Stage Formatting system, where each race across all three national series, are divided into smaller segments. With each track varying in stage length, the Daytona 500 featured a 60-60-80 lap stage segments. For the top-10 finishers in the first two stages, points are awarded (1st = 10 points, 2nd = 9 points etc). 2015 NASCAR Champion Kyle Busch opened the Daytona 500 with a win in Stage One, which also brought a playoff point if Busch makes it into NASCAR’s playoff run. Kevin Harvick, the 2014 Champion, brought his Jimmy John’s Ford across the line first for Stage Two.
Beginning at lap 105 however, a familiar sight began to plague Daytona for a third straight day – mangled machines.
Kyle Busch blew a tire on lap 105, triggering a six-car pileup that ended the day of six drivers including Matt Kenseth, Erik Jones, and Dale Earnhardt Jr, who had a 5/2 odds of winning the Daytona 500 in Vegas.
Aggression, and impatience became the theme of the Daytona 500 late in the race. On lap 128, Jamie McMurray, who showed newly discovered aggression in a contract year with Chip Ganassi Racing, made it four-wide going into turn four. After making contact with Trevor Bayne, defending champion Jimmie Johnson was turned, and 16-cars joined the crash. All four of the Stewart-Haas Racing Fords were involved in the lap 128 pileup, resulting in Danica Patrick, and Clint Bowyer ending their day in the garage. Kevin Harvick would patch up his Freaky Fast Ford, and continue on, as well as Kurt Busch.
Lap 136 saw another four car crash, and lap 143 saw an 11 car pileup on the backstretch including Ryan Newman, Daniel Suarez, Brad Keselowski, and Jamie McMurray. Pole Sitter Chase Elliott was bumped from behind by McMurray, which began the pileup.
Many drivers, including Jimmie Johnson, and Kevin Harvick, all blamed over aggression from other drivers as a main factor to the piles of sheet metal that used to be race cars.
Pole sitter Chase Elliott would parade the field towards the end of the race, until the Dawsonville native began to sputter due to low fuel with four laps to go. Chase’s engine re-fired after falling back to 10th and catching the lead pack. He would finish 14th in his second Daytona 500 after starting on the pole for the second consecutive year.
Martin Truex Jr., who finished second in the 2015 Daytona 500 by mere inches, would take command in his #78 Bass Pro Shops Toyota. The lead was short-lived as 24-year-old Kyle Larson dived bombed Truex in Turn 2 with just three laps to go, to put the Daytona 500 in his command.
Larson would hold the lead until the white flag lap. Heading into turn one, with Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne in his mirror, Larson made an unexpected move to the bottom of the track, out of the draft, because he too was out of fuel. Busch thundered around the high-line with Ryan Blaney and AJ Allmendinger in line. Busch, who was also low on fuel, shot out to a 10 car length lead on the backstretch with Blaney and Allmendinger in his rear view. Busch lost his rear view mirror with 30 laps to go after it fell off the roof, and was being assisted by spotter Tony Raines.
After being a bridesmaid in the Daytona 500 before, Kurt Busch would finally capture victory in Daytona Beach, becoming the 38th winner of the 59th Daytona 500. Crew Chief Tony Gibson was in a frenzy as he began to celebrate on the pit box with owner Tony Stewart. Kurt jumped out of his battered #41 Ford in the Daytona infield grass and celebrated with his crew. This marks Kurt’s first Daytona 500 win, and the first win for Stewart-Haas Racing since joining the Ford Motor Company.