This is the first of a series highlighting the five best races of the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series, starting with No. 5.

 

Kurt Busch was well under the radar during 2017 Speedweeks.

His No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was quick, but was not drawing much attention, since Cup Series sophomore Chase Elliott had earned pole honors and had become the favorite to win the 59th Daytona 500.

But as the old racing adage goes, in order to finish first, you first must [...]

This is the first of a series highlighting the five best races of the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series, starting with No. 5.

 

Kurt Busch was well under the radar during 2017 Speedweeks.

His No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was quick, but was not drawing much attention, since Cup Series sophomore Chase Elliott had earned pole honors and had become the favorite to win the 59th Daytona 500.

But as the old racing adage goes, in order to finish first, you first must finish, and those words rang true on Feb. 26.

Busch had been a Cup Series regular for nearly two decades, yet was 0-for-63 in restrictor-plate races at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

Busch’s most memorable Daytona finish was in 2008 when he pushed Team Penske teammate Ryan Newman to victory in the 50th Daytona 500.

Newman was awarded a one-of-a-kind golden trophy symbolizing the importance of the race victory.

It was a special day because it gave Roger Penske his first Daytona 500 victory after years of trying to win NASCAR’s most prestigious racing event.

“I'm happy that I pushed a teammate to win this race,” Busch said after the 2008 race. “You know, Ryan Newman might drop in behind me later on down the road and I might have my shot at winning. Who knows?”

That never happened.

Instead, Busch nabbed a Daytona 500 victory his own way, with a mileage run for the ages in his 16th start.

It was a very competitive race with 37 lead changes among 18 drivers. Busch’s new teammate, Kevin Harvick, led a race-high six times for 50 laps, followed by Elliott, who led 39.

Elliott was in control in the closing laps, nabbing the point from Joey Logano on Lap 175 of 200.

But the field was on different pitting strategies, thanks in part to six wrecks, which sent 14 cars to the garage.

Among those swept out of the race were Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr., making his final start in the 500.

The final yellow flag was waved from Laps 151-153 after a skirmish that involved Joey Gase, Brendan Gaughan and Elliott. All returned and finished the race.

At that point, several teams decided to try to go the distance with the fill-up during that caution period. From Lap 154 until the checkered there were no more yellow flags.

Elliott led the race from Lap 175 to 197, before his No. 24 Chevrolet dramatically slowed. His fuel cell had run dry.

Martin Truex Jr. assumed the lead on Lap 198 in the No. 78 Toyota, until his gas tank emptied, giving the lead to Kyle Larson in the No. 42 Chevy.

But on the final lap, his car slowed and he watched helplessly as Busch zoomed past in the No. 41 Ford and took the checkered flag. Busch led only one lap that day, the final lap.

Busch was jubilant in Victory Lane.

“That’s what Daytona’s about,” said Busch, whose car was swallowed up in the first multi-car wreck of the day. “You have to roll with it. You have to find what it’s going to take to win.

“Our car didn’t have too much damage on the nose or tail. I knew it still had speed in it. I just kept believing it was going to happen. Seventeen years of heartache can be erased and it’s erased tonight.”

Not only was it Busch’s first restrictor-plate victory, but the first Daytona 500 win for Stewart-Haas Racing, co-owned by Tony Stewart, who never won this race as a driver. He retired after the 2016 season.

“I ran this damn race for 17 years and couldn’t win it,” Stewart said. “Now, to win it as an owner, this is awesome."