The potential of the No. 1 Monster Energy Camaro was on full display in Thursday night’s Duels, and it carried over into Monday’s 500. While Kurt never made his way to the front of the field, he was in the thick of it all in the lead draft group for virtually the entire race. The No. 1 was able to suck up well and push others, and Kurt was able to drive up through the pack as needed. As the field reached its final round of scheduled pit stops with 30 laps to go, Busch was right where he needed to be. The No. 1 was running second when Kurt came down pit road one last time with 27 laps remaining, and while he returned to the track just inside the top 20, the four fresh tires that were put on the Monster Energy Camaro were going to be a difference maker against the large swath of cars who elected to go with a fuel only strategy.
In a matter of laps, the second draft group, filled with cars running new tires, closed in and swallowed up the lead pack. Busch had battled his way back up for a spot in the top 10, and was in a perfect position to keep moving forward as one of the handful of cars with fresher rubber. Unfortunately, when some bump drafting by Aric Almirola and Joey Logano went awry, Kurt ended up caught in the aftermath of it. Initially, it seemed like the No. 1 had a clear path to avoid the wreck, but when Matt DiBenedetto got into the grass and turned back up into the racetrack, Kurt had nowhere to go. It wasn’t an overly violent hit, but it did enough damage to eliminate the Monster Energy Camaro from competition.
“It’s Daytona. That’s what happens down there. Everybody is gunning hard trying to get the big trophy. Too many cars in one spot, you end up with big wrecks. There’s 20 laps to go and we’re running in the lead pack in ninth, and then we got sideswiped from the outside and the day is done. It’s like, well damn, I guess we weren’t lucky enough to survive the wrecks. It’s pretty wild how your fortune can change as quick as it does.”
While a frightening incident like Newman’s at the end of the race is something we all dread to see, it’s in these dark moments where opportunity presents itself. The discussion surrounding superspeedway racing is once again ramping up, and for good reason. The drivers are making their voices heard, and NASCAR is no doubt listening. While the strides in safety have been incredible and should rightly be celebrated, there’s still some solutions to be found, and none are more pressing than the next evolution of racing at Daytona and Talladega.
“You have to know you’ve done all your homework beforehand, as far as safety, and adding all the right things to your system, whether it’s the HANS device, the seat, the car, the SAFER barriers. Our cars are very safe, and yet the thing that we keep have happening is that there’s more and more cars on the lead lap at the end of these races, because of stage breaks, and it just creates an environment where everybody is gunning at the same time. You just hope for the best. It’s part of the risk in our sport, but our sport is very safe.”
With the “Great American Race” now in everyone’s rear view mirror, the focus will now shift towards building momentum in the early season and building a foundation to make a Playoff run in October. However, in a little more than two months the Cup Series will find itself back at a superspeedway, at Talladega on April 26, and it will be interesting to see if any changes are implemented to usher in another era of “plate racing” on the heels of such an alarming night in Daytona.