Kurt Busch was in excellent position to make Daytona 500 history Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway. A Daytona Sweep was within his grasp. He had won the Budweiser Shootout and Gatorade Duel earlier in Speedweeks in the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger R/T. The crown jewel, a Daytona 500 win, was within his grasp.
Busch was third in the 53rd running of The Great American Race as the field prepared for a restart after the 15th caution extended the race beyond the scheduled distance for a green-white-checkered finish. To enhance the opportunity, his younger brother, Kyle, was close behind and the two were prepared to hook up in tandem for a run to the checkered flag.
Both were fast, very well the fastest two cars in the field, especially in a two-car draft. They agreed to team up in tandem until they reached the final turn and then settle the issue on the track.
The strategy was working as the two quickly made a charge on the leaders, but before the field took the white flag, a four-car mishap brought out a record 16th yellow of the afternoon, setting up another green-white-checkered. In the process, Busch lost his drafting partner. His brother had a tire rub and had to make an unscheduled pit stop.
Buschs new drafting partner would be Juan Pablo Montoya. The duo tried to go to the outside, but lost momentum and could not mount a challenge for the win. Busch had to settle for fifth.
What a race, said Busch. On that last lap, I just needed to stay on the bottom of the track and it just didnt seem like Montoya could stay together and get enough steam built up on the run. I was in perfect position to win the race, running third and just made a mistake. Its tough. We came all this way, but came up a little shy.
All in all, it was a great points day for us. Well take it. To have a run at history was something special. I tried to block it out all day. We fought through adversity when we knocked a hole in the grille. For Shell/Pennzoil, Dodge, AAA and Coca-Cola, this was a great day. Now we move on to Phoenix and get the season started. Im real happy with this fifth-place finish. To make a mistake on the last lap, Im going to be the one that has the sour feeling in my stomach.
Busch led 10 times for 19 laps, much of it to the credit of Regan Smith who was the drafting partner most of the race. He lost that partner in a mishap that brought out the 15th caution. Busch was pushing the No. 78 when he was hit from behind by Tony Stewart, knocking the No. 22 into the rear of the 78. That turned Smith into the path of three other cars. He managed to continue after a stop for fresh tires and still finished seventh.
As the race got down to the end, I thought that I was in perfect position to put this Shell/Pennzoil Dodge car into victory lane. We just kept battling back with different guys. I feel horrible for Regan Smith. Those guys were with us all day. Tony Stewart came up behind us with a head of steam. I got on the brakes as hard as I could not to hit the 78; he got the short end of the stick. For us, finding different guys to work with, I thought I was in perfect position to bring it on home.
I was just one step behind on the last lap. I went to the middle; I needed to be on the low side. I had Montoya behind me. Those guys behind just pulled Juan away from my rear bumper and took away the head of steam that we needed. We finished fifth. This was a great Speedweeks. Its a great way to start off the season in the double-deuce.
Team owner Roger Penske said Busch drove a masterful race. It was just one of those days at the end where we needed the right partner, he said. With all the green-white-checkered flags (two), you want to be careful because were running for the championship. Two wins (Bud Shootout and Gatorade Duel) and a fifth-place today in the 500, this month at Daytona is a great finish for us. Its great for Dodge and Shell/Pennzoil and all of our sponsors.
In addition to the record 16 cautions (previous record was 12), the race had a record 74 lead changes (60 the previous record). The big one came on lap 29, a 14-car mishap.
What a stressful day, said Steve Addington, crew chief for the No. 22 team. We got a hole knocked in the grille and fought to get our Shell/Pennzoil Dodge back up to the front. Kurt was patient all day long and worked really well with Regan (Smith). It was a tough deal for him getting spun like he did. I just want to thank all the guys that lay a hand on this race car. We had a great month and they worked their tails off to give us good race cars down here in Daytona. Its a great way to start the season.
Penske teammate Brad Keselowski also led in the event in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger R/T. He was at the front twice for seven laps and running in the top 10 when a group of cars got a run, bumped the No. 7 ENERGY Drink Dodge Charger R/T, knocking it into the No. 2. That set off a four-car mishap. Heavy damage forced Keselowski out of the race while Gordon was able to continue.
Its just an end of the race deal where everyone is just a little bit too aggressive to be pushing that hard, said Keselowski. Robby did his best to try and help me move up. Its one of those deals where I had two packs of cars in front of me and I needed just a little bit of help. It wasnt Robbys fault. Our Dodges worked well together today, we had moved up to sixth and seventh and started to make a move. My Miller Lite Dodge Charger was really fast. We had a really strong car. We just got caught up in a wreck.
Gordon was running seventh in the closing laps when he was bumped from behind and knocked out of line. He gathered his Dodge back in, but was shuffled back to 17th. He finished 16th.
We had a top-five race car and ended up 16th, said Gordon. Im disappointed in the finish, but Im excited to be working with Dodge, excited about the Penske program. I think weve solved a few of our problems, so I think we can have a good run at Phoenix.
The Daytona 500 ended earlier than Brian Keselowski had hoped, but the dream week was not tarnished. A push from his younger brother, Brad, in one of the Gatorade Duels got him into the Daytona 500 field. The day ended on lap 29 as Keselowskis No. 92 Discount Tire Dodge Charger was involved in the 14-car mishap.
Its not the way we wanted it to end, but its been a great week, he said. Im just so thankful for everybody that has helped us out. Unfortunately, it just didnt work out today. To get wrecked 30 laps into the race isnt what we wanted. We overheated early in the race, came in, cleaned it off (grille) and thought we had a chance to work our way forward. Something happened in front of us, cars got together and there was just nowhere to go.
I sure hope to go to Phoenix. Ive said right along, I really want to go there, but I want to go competitively. I want to make the show. I want to race all the laps. If I cant do that, then I wont go. Well see where we are about Tuesday. Well try to get the car together. If were able to get the car together, then well go to Phoenix.
Brad Keselowski led three times in the No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge Challenger before being caught up in a mishap which ended his day. Contact with another car sent the No. 22 out of control down through the grass and back onto the track in turn one where contact with another car caused extensive damage. Keselowski finished 30th.
Sam Hornish Jr. had his share of misfortune. He was caught up in two mishaps which ended his day before the halfway mark. He finished 36th. Two other Dodge Challengers were in the field. Donnie Neuenberger was running at the checkered flag and finished 23rd while Robert Richardson Jr. had overheating problems and finished 32nd.