How Kurt Busch overcame
Ask Kurt Busch what it’s like to win the Daytona 500 and you’ll get an enthusiastic response.
“It’s beyond,” the affable 2017 race champion says. “To win the Great American Race, it’s a dream come true. And to be part of history and to have the prestigious Harley J. Earl Trophy – and then all the teamwork that it took to put ourselves in position to win that race – it’s such a magnificent feeling. And I enjoyed it so much so I don’t want to let anybody else share in on that for this year, so hopefully we can get it again.”
And he’ll get that chance Sunday, Feb. 18, when Busch and 39 other drivers – among them past race winners Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman – take to the 2.5-mile tri-oval at Daytona Motor Speedway for the 60th running of the Daytona 500, the opener of the 2018 Monster Energy Cup season that airs on Fox.
Winning last year’s race was a lesson in perseverance and problem-solving for Busch and his Stewart Haas Racing NASCAR team. Running low on fuel and his car held together by tape after a wreck on the backstretch, Busch surged to the front on the final lap after more than half of the vehicles on the lead draft ran short of fuel.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. The bracket to his mirror had broken, so his ability to see who and what was around him was severely compromised.
“When it happened, I went ‘Really? That’s happening now?’ ” the 39-year-old Las Vegas native recalls with a laugh. “I mean, that’s a new hurdle that I had to figure out how to jump over. And I went back to, ‘What would my dad teach me at this point as a young student?’ Because this was such a new problem.
“And I just thought of … I’m going to run the outside groove for most of the final sector of the race,” he continues, “because if I run the outside, I don’t have to block to the outside, I only have to block to the inside and try to help eliminate a portion of the track that guys can’t go race on. … You force guys to go one direction.”
The gambit would pay off as Busch came in .228 seconds ahead of Ryan Blaney to take his first win in NASCAR’s signature race. This year, he has designs on becoming the first driver since Sterling Marlin in 1994-95 to successfully repeat his Daytona title. He knows it won’t be easy – no race win is – but he’d sure appreciate it if the racing gods could throw up fewer roadblocks this time around.
“That’s how Daytona is,” Busch says. “If you think you’re going to have a perfect, clean, smooth race, that’s the wrong approach to have, because you have to overcome all the different problems.”