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Shots from NASCAR in Daytona, Florida

Kurt Busch Is Ready For Daytona

Feb 142020

The NASCAR Cup Series is mere hours away from kicking off its 2020 season, where the biggest race of the year gets the things rolling in the most dramatic and thrilling way possible. The Daytona 500 is affectionately known as “The Great American Race,” and for good reason. No other event in American motorsports brings as much energy and excitement as this race, where the best stock car drivers on the planet are all chomping at the bit to not only begin their season on a high note, but achieve the pinnacle of victories in NASCAR’s premier division.

Monster Energy’s own Kurt Busch is familiar with that feeling. Back in 2017, Busch led only one lap of the Daytona 500, but it happened to be the most important one. After hanging around the front of the field all day long, even overcoming some significant damage to his car after getting caught up in the “big one,” Busch made the pass of the race around his eventual teammate, Kyle Larson, to prevail with arguably the biggest victory of his career. That afternoon three years ago was an adventurous one, and that’s exactly what the Daytona 500 is, an adventure. Over the course of the race’s 200 laps there are so many ebbs and flows, dramatic shifts in momentum, and guaranteed attrition. Success can be just as much about survival as it is about having a good car and making the right strategy decisions. Rarely does the clear-cut best car in the field go on to win the race, which is a truly unique distinction of this race..

Daytona Speedweeks are special. The lore of the event permeates through every bit of the two week window the 500 encompasses, beginning with the run for the pole the week before the race, the all-star level Busch Clash, and the captivating Duels, which often serve as a sneak peek to what Sunday’s 500-miler will consist of. This year, Busch has made his presence felt in the No. 1 Monster Energy Camaro for Chip Ganassi Racing. This is Busch’s second season driving for the legendary owner, following an awesome first year in which the 2004 Cup Series Champion earned one victory and qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs. For all the success that Ganassi has achieved as a car owner in this series, he’s mired in the midst of a decade-long Daytona 500 drought. Kurt would like nothing more than to be the one to put Ganassi back in Victory Lane at the “World Center of Racing.”


“For us on the Ganassi team, we’re building on the foundation we started last year. We won together at Kentucky Speedway, made the Playoffs, and had a consistent first half of the year [in 2019]. Now, we’ve got to finish strong and build more momentum towards the Playoffs, and we start here in Daytona. This track is tough, it will challenge you in many ways, but with all that newness now worn off with the merger of myself and Ganassi, we’re ready to hit the track running hard and try to win this [the Daytona 500] for Chip Ganassi. He hasn’t won this in a decade, and I’m trying to deliver.”


After qualifying just outside the top 20, in 22nd, this past Sunday, Busch and the Monster Energy squad put their focus on Thursday night’s Duels. If not on the front row, qualifying carries little meaning at the Daytona 500, so in emphasizing a car that will perform well in the draft as opposed to single-car runs proved to be the correct approach for the No. 1 team.


Just four drivers managed to lead a lap in the second 60-lap Duel on Thursday, with Kevin Harvick spending most of the time at the front of the field. The No. 1 Monster Energy Camaro rolled off the grid in 11th, and spent most of the race pushing other cars and jockeying for position near the front. Busch clearly had a car that drove well in traffic, but more importantly he had a car that could push others well, and had the ability to make moves through the dirty air when necessary. No driver has a longer active tenure in the NASCAR Cup Series that Kurt, with a career that dates back to the year 2000. With 20 seasons of experience under his belt, Busch is one of the most savvy and well-versed restrictor plate racers in the division. You don’t win the Daytona 500 without knowing how to get the job done, and Kurt showed that prowess as the Duel reached the final lap.

As the field roared down the backstretch, Kurt made an aggressive, but clean move from the outside line to get under Jimmie Johnson, who was running second. As Johnson attempted to defend, Busch was forced to make a quick flick of the steering wheel, lurching left as they approached Turn 3. This caused Harvick, who was running the bottom line, to evade the No. 1, and it caused him to get loose entering the turn. With a head of steam in the middle lane, Busch as mere inches from being able to clear Harvick and dive down to the bottom. Unfortunately, the help Kurt needed to sustain his momentum simply wasn’t there, and he soldiered to the line in eighth. It was a solid result that will place him 18th on the grid for Sunday’s race, ahead of several other contenders like Denny Hamlin, last year’s winner, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and younger brother Kyle Busch, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series Champion.


At the age of 41, Kurt is one of the oldest drivers in the series, but in a race like the Daytona 500 that is a decisive advantage. Experience will always trump youthful exuberance in the “Great American Race.” That’s why over the past decade, only 3 drivers under the age have 30 have taken the checkered flag. Even more intriguing is that Kurt is currently the same age as the car number he drove to the Daytona 500 victory in 2017. Perhaps there are some bigger things at play this time around, and the odds are in Kurt’s favor to become the 13th driver to earn multiple Daytona 500 wins.


“It’s an amazing [place to] win and an amazing set of circumstances that need to fall into place in order to win at Daytona. Patience is number one. Lady luck is right in the mix as well, but having a great team, and a great team effort as far as pit stops and drafting, and as far as the engine build…you’ve got to have it all to win Daytona, and I’m proud to represent Monster Energy and Chip GanassiRacing. We’ll give it a shot!”