DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The 59th Daytona 500 certainly didn’t play favorites.
Entering Sunday’s race, Kurt Busch’s name would likely not be on a list of favorites to win the Daytona 500. After all, in 63 previous restrictor-plate races between Daytona Int’l Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway Busch had never driven to victory.
Sure, he had come close before, like the 2008 Daytona 500 when he pushed Team Penske teammate Ryan Newman to victory to give team owner Roger Penske his first win in NASCAR’s Crown Jewel event.
With three laps remaining in Sunday’s race, Busch was still not the favorite to win. Second-year driver Chase Elliott, who started on the pole, remained in front for 23 straight laps, from lap 175-197, before his No. 24 Chevrolet began to run out of fuel.
“It was a disappointing finish to a good day,” Elliott said after leading five times for 39 laps. “It’s just one of those things you can’t do anything about. I’m happy with how the NAPA team performed, and we are going to learn from it. I’m proud of how hard everyone worked all week. We’re looking forward to getting back at it in Atlanta.”
That put last year’s hard-luck loser, Martin Truex Jr., in the lead with three laps to go. Truex finished second by six-inches or so to Denny Hamlin in last year’s Daytona 500 and looked like he might achieve redemption in 2017.
But he ran out of gas with two laps to go and finished 13th.
“We did what we wanted to do and that was to put ourselves in position to have a shot at winning this race,” Truex said. “We came close but didn’t get it done in the end. But considering where we came from and the accidents we avoided it was a good effort that should have had a better finish. We had a strategy early in the race and we did get up front to lead a couple of laps. But we had an issue with a pit stop just before the Lap-60 mark. A lug nut flew behind the wheel and we had to come back to pit road for another tire change. We went down a lap shortly after and didn’t get back on the lead lap until after the second stage.”
Even as the white flag was about to fly, Busch was still not the favorite to win. Kyle Larson appeared to be on the way to his second career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win heading into turn one, but he was running low on fuel. Once his engine coughed and sputtered coming out of turn two, that’s all Busch needed to drive to the outside and score the biggest single race victory of his career.
Even these drivers at the end of the race were certainly never considered favorites to win the 59th Daytona 500. But again, this was a race that didn’t play favorites.
Team Penske driver Joey Logano was a favorite to win his second Daytona 500 in the last three years. But when he tried to save fuel and fell back to seventh place, he needed help from his Ford teammate Ryan Blaney to have any shot at winning. Blaney helped him move up a position before driving on by to eventually finish second.
Logano finished sixth after leading three times for 16 laps.
“I just couldn’t get anyone to go for it at the end,” Logano lamented. “Everyone was so conservative and I don’t understand why. We kept trying to go to the bottom and make a run down there and no one would go with us. We had three cars that kind of wanted to do it, but it’s a matter of getting the right run and getting the right cars behind us and we didn’t have enough of them and couldn’t get up to the lead pack. I don’t know why everyone was so conservative today.
“I felt like we were in good shape there with 20 to go or so and then we just got out and it’s just a matter of trying to get everyone to go with us and we just couldn’t get enough.”
In a race that featured eight caution flags for 40 laps in the first 153 laps of the contest, the final 47 circuits around the 2.5-mile superspeedway were run without interruption.