DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Kyle Busch held off a furious last-lap charge from outside polesitter Alex Bowman to win the first stage of Sunday’s 61st Daytona 500 at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
Busch had a wingman for much of the seven-lap dash that concluded the first 60-lap segment in Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, but lost that help when Bowman came hauling to the front with drafting partner and 2015 Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano.
The duo stormed up the outside on the last lap and Bowman got to second behind Busch, but the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion hung on by .091 of a second for the first stage win of the year.
Sunday’s opening stage marked Busch’s 21st career stage victory in the Cup Series. He started from 31st after contact with Jimmie Johnson in his Duel race Thursday night and drove through the field to take both 10 regular-season bonus points and a playoff point.
Behind Busch and Bowman was a mad scramble for position coming to the green-and-white checkered flag, with the Fords of Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney crossing the line third, fourth and fifth, respectively.
Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Erik Jones completed the top-10 points scoring drivers at the first stage break.
The opening segment was punctuated by furious two- and three-wide racing, something that many pundits didn’t believe would be seen on Sunday, as well as two caution flags for incident.
A shredded right-front tire and subsequent debris off of Corey LaJoie’s machine drew the first yellow flag on lap 21, while a three-car incident in turn one that collected Kurt Busch, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Jamie McMurray sparked the second slowdown with 11 to go in the stage.
McMurray drove off with significant right-front damage. He’s competing in his final Daytona 500 today.