Kurt Busch led one lap in the 2017 Daytona 500. It was the most important one.
Busch moved to the lead on the final lap after going high to battle Kyle Larson, then puled away from the field after Larson ran out of fuel. Busch, who finished second in The Great American Race three times prior to winning, gave Tony Stewart his first – and long awaited – Daytona 500 victory.
On Sunday, Busch – driving the No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing – attempts to join Kyle Petty (1973-74), Cale Yarborough (1983-84) and Sterling Marlin (1994-95) as the only consecutive winners in the 60th running of the Daytona 500.
Busch, the 2004 NASCAR points champion, took time during Thursday’s Daytona 500 media day to talk about getting Stewart and fellow car owner Gene Haas to victory lane, his “little” brother Kyle Busch and the start of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Question: Tony Stewart was winless in 17 Daytona 500 starts. How did it feel to finally get Stewart to victory lane, albeit as a car owner?
Answer: It was awesome with him standing there in victory lane. They handed us the Daytona 500 winning rings and there were three of them – one for the crew chief, one for the driver and one for the car owner. I’m in a unique spot. I have two car owners and they’re standing there in victory lane with me. I had a moment with Tony Stewart. I said I want you to have this. I said we’ve raced against each other for years … and it was back and forth. It was the perfect bonding moment for the two of us to share. I’ll worry about getting my ring later. I wanted him to enjoy that. I wanted to him to truly know how appreciative I was to have the chance to win the race for him.
Q: Did you ever get a Daytona 500 championship ring?
A: I had a group of rings made for all the crew guys. I had one made from that batch and just put a couple extra diamonds in there, you know, just for myself.
Q: Chase Elliott ran out of gas with three laps to go. Kyle Larson ran out of fuel on the last lap. Both were leading the race. What was going through your mind about your own fuel situation?
A: My crew told me we were a lap and a half shy. They were guesstimating the others were either a lap shy or two laps shy. I was like, ‘Well, at least I’m in the middle as far as having fuel versus the other guys.’ I played it cool the last 50 laps trying to run at partial throttle, staying tucked in the draft. When it came down to five to go, I knew I did my job to save fuel. It was at that moment you have to go full throttle all the way to the end. … My plan was to make a move on the last lap in Turn 2. It unfolded perfectly.
Q: It’s the final lap of the Daytona 500. You and Kyle are side by side coming out of Turn 4. What do you think would happen?
A: Man, that would be epic. I would cherish and relish that type of moment to be in and to try and outsmart Kyle to bring home the Daytona 500. To have my second one or to take it away from him, that would be icing on the cake. … In my game plan, yes I would win.
Q: You’ll be coming to Kentucky Speedway for the Quaker State 400 on July 14. What are your thoughts on Kentucky Speedway and the reconfigured Turn 3?
A: I like when we have those once-a-year tracks because there seems to be more importance on that one race. For all the Kentucky race fans, fans from southern Ohio, Tennessee, Illinois and all the Hoosiers we’ve drawn from Indianapolis – all those who can come to the area quick – it’s one of the coolest night races of the year. Treacherous Turn 3, if you get your call dialed in on that spot of the track and you’re going to be good to go the rest of the track.
Q: If you can’t win the Daytona 500, who would you like to see win?
A: That’s a cool question. If I can’t win it I’d love for my little brother to win it.
Q: You are 39-years old and have a one-year contract with Stewart-Haas Racing. With drivers like Stewart, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. retiring at earlier ages – and with business opportunities outside of racing – has retirement entered your mind?
A: For me, I love racing. I love going after the trophies. I still have that opportunity with a top-tier team and a great manufacturer with Ford. Monster Energy has stood behind me and we’ve had fun promoting the brand and doing different cross promotions. There are a lot of different moving pieces to my career and I really like the situation I’m in. I haven’t thought about any big decisions. I’m just having fun with it.