The following storybook you’re about to look through was collected in and around Daytona International Speedway in the days leading right up to the running of the 2017 Daytona 500. Quietly confident and optimistic about his chances in what would be the 576th start of his career - and even though he had never won at Big Bill France’s 2.5-mile superspeedway - Kurt Busch knew he had a car that was up to the task. We all know what played out on Sunday at the 59th Daytona 500 so no real need to go into that here, but looking into the rear view mirror (even though he lost his during the final green-flag run on Sunday night) and into Kurt Busch’s mind’s eye in the days leading up to the biggest victory of his 17-year career makes for some compelling and interesting clairvoyance. Ex post facto the Great American Race, check it out.
Based in garage slot No. 18 all week at Daytona International Speedway, day by day, minute by minute and second by second, Busch and the Monster Energy/Haas Automation Stewart-Haas race team ceaselessly and meticulously went over the No. 41 Ford Fusion inch by inch “We’re smoothing it out and looking for more straight line speed,” pointed out Busch on Friday afternoon. “Ultimately, there is a ton of technology that is poured into these cars.”
Motorhead: “Engines are $100,000 to rent each week,” explained Busch of the 358 cubic-inch mills that motivate his No. 41 Ford. “38 races on the Cup schedule at $100,000 and you’re at $4 million in an engine program to run the whole circuit. The engines are continually developed and create 800 horsepower.”
“My dad Tom did Late Model racing around Vegas. He’d race at Las Vegas Speedway Park – that’s what it was called most of the time – but then Las Vegas Motor Speedway bought it and now it’s currently called the Bullring. Before that, and going way back, was Craig Road Speedway that was a quarter-mile that closed down in the early 1980s. That was a track that had the Fall Open Comp at the end of the year and so guys like Mark Martin, Dick Trickle and Rusty Wallace would come out. There would be a huge gang of Midwest guys would come out because the weather was good and it paid good. My dad was a good racer.”
Making the scene at the 7-Eleven located at 2150 International Speedway Drive in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Keeping our Monster Energy partners stoked.
“I got to come here once when I was a kid,” reflected Busch of his first visit to Daytona as a 14 year-old. “I just went to visit my grandma in Florida and then we stopped by here to do the track tour so I got to see the banking. I was like, “Wow! They race on that! The banking is 31-degrees! No way!” So I came here to race the first time in the Trucks. It was the year 2000. The Cup cars were doing their Shootout that weekend and I think Ricky Rudd wrecked and he was flipping upside down and I remember thinking, “This is what’s going on here in the bigtime, man! Yeah, I love this. This is awesome.” So I got out there in my Tuck series practice and wrecked right away. I got in some oil. In the race I swear I wrecked three different times and didn’t run into anything. I spun or bumped into this guy or this or that happened, and then I got second at the end of the day. First time at Daytona. In a Truck. I’m sitting there going, “I should have been in the ambulance and wrecked three times and I got second.” I didn’t even know how to feel after the first race. That’s what Daytona does to you. It’ll confuse you every year you come back here.”
“I met Bill France Junior once. It was in New York the year I won the championship in 2004. It was the moment. It was a moment. I walked into his room at the Waldorf Astoria and it was the presidential suite and I was cutting through the smoke with a knife trying to find him in his room because he’s smoking his Winston’s and he sits me down and says, “Son, we’ve got a responsibility for you now.” I said, ”What’s that, sir?” he said, “You’re a champion in my sport and it comes with a great deal of responsibility and I don’t need you to let me down.” "And that was the gist of the conversation. It was like I just met The Godfather, the iron fist that runs this show. It was really cool.”
“The difference between me as a person and racer from 2000 and 2017 is that I was in a tunnel vision before. Now I have more of an understanding and respect for the team, the personnel, and an appreciation of sponsorship value and the return on investment that sponsors want. Ultimately, it’s all about doing the same thing and that is winning and getting those trophies in victory lane, but I have more of an appreciation for everything. I love to give back and to help young crew guys develop and help new engineers develop into stars they can be one day. When I first started, I thought it was all me doing it, but it really comes down to the people.”
"The two of us – and not a lot of people can digest this – we grew up seven years apart. So here I am, racing in the Southwest Tour at 19, winning races, about to go to NASCAR's Truck series, and Kyle is 12. We never raced against each other much when we first were starting out. So when I was accomplishing things, he wanted to accomplish everything quicker and prove that he was better. When he got to Cup, in his late teens, everything seemed to start to average back out age-wise. But, he had a nice four-year head start on everything, and I helped him get a ride at Hendrick Motorsports. Man, I didn’t know he had the work ethic he has in him to go after all these races and stats and wins and such. Truck series ownership and Xfinity ownership and racing Friday, racing Saturday, and racing Sunday. As a kid, I never would have guessed he had this strong of a work ethic to race this many races. I’m really proud of him. I think he has achieved more in this sport than I have and I’ve always wished him nothing but the best. I love racing against Kyle, he is a teammate in life."
“It’s still that excitement. It’s the start of the season. I mean I always go through the old tunnel in turn four because it’s so steep when you come out of it that you can jump the rental car a little bit and smack the oil pan a little bit. That’s my welcome to Daytona and the rent-a-car companies haven’t called yet. It’s just fun to come back and feel Daytona.”
“The Daytona 500 is the Superbowl for us. There’s nothing as far as the power, the prestige and the history of our other races that compare to this one.”
“I have to win. I’m upset if we don’t. If we have a 15th place car and we manage to salvage an eighth out of it, I’ve learned to accept those as good days. The ones that hurt the most are when you have a winning car and you get a fourth or a fifth with it and you’re just kicking the dirt on your way back. It sticks with you for a few days afterwards. But to win is the best thing in the world and to win one of these races is tough. It’s special when you do it, but that’s why I’m here. It’s to achieve the success rate that was instilled in me from the beginning, which was going to the track with my dad. If I don’t achieve the win, I’m trying to figure out why and it eats at me and I want to correct it."
Kurt Busch brings it home to win the 59th Daytona 500 by .228 seconds ahead of Ryan Blaney and AJ Allmendinger.
“I can’t believe it!" Exclaimed Kurt Busch in victory lane. “I love you guys! Thank you! Thank you! My mirror fell off with 30 laps to go and I couldn’t even see out the back. And I thought that was an omen. Throw caution to the wind.”