Monster victory: Kurt Busch wins first Daytona 500 on last-lap pass

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The 59th running of the Daytona 500 was a story of victory lane debuts Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

A driver, a team (with a new manufacturer) and a series title sponsor all celebrated for the first time on stock-car racing’s biggest stage.

Kurt Busch swept around the outside of Kyle Larson on a last-lap pass to win the Daytona 500, his first restrictor-plate victory in NASCAR’s premier series.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver finished 0.228 seconds ahead of Ryan Blaney in leading only the final circuit at the 2.5-mile oval. AJ Allmendinger was third, followed by Aric Almirola and Paul Menard. Larson, who ran out of fuel, finished 12th.

Busch’s team switched to Ford for the 2017 season and won in its debut Sunday with the manufacturer.

“It just got crazy and wild,” said Busch, who rebounded from being involved in a backstretch wreck on Lap 128 of 200. “It was one of the smartest chess games I have seen out there. All the hard work that Ford and SHR put into this.

“Here we are in victory lane. I can’t believe it.”

His No. 41 Fusion is sponsored by Monster Energy, which also is entering its first season as NASCAR’s new title sponsor.

“I tried not to put any extra pressure on my shoulders,” said Busch, the eight different driver to win the Daytona 500 in the past eight races. “I tried to rely on my team’s strengths and not focus on what I have been through with Monster Energy the last six years. They are a strong, big company, and they have chosen to be the entitlement sponsor, and I can’t be happier to do the job I am supposed to do as a Monster athlete, which is to win podiums and races.”

Busch had been winless in his previous 63 starts at the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway (which require restrictor plates to reduce speeds).

“There is nothing predictable about this race anymore and the more years that have gone by that I didn’t win, I kept trying to go back to patterns that I had seen in the past,” he said. “My mirror fell off with 30 laps to go, and I couldn’t even see out the back. And I thought that was an omen. Throw caution to the wind.”

It also was the first Daytona 500 win as a car owner for Tony Stewart, who retired after the 2016 season with a winless record in 17 starts in the race.

“The look on (co-owner) Gene Haas’ face right now, that smile, make it all worth it,” Stewart said. “It has been a really long hard winter, and I am so proud of everyone at SHR and Ford Performance. They really worked their tails off to get ready. Doug Yates and everybody at Roush Yates Engines brought unbelievable power all week.

“It was a crazy race, even crazier to sit and watch it from a pit box finally. If I had known all I had to do was retire, I would have retired 17 years ago if I knew it was what it took to win the race.”

Busch’s crew chief, Tony Gibson, hails from Daytona Beach.

“This is unbelievable,” Gibson said on Fox. “My mom, my dad, we sacrificed everything to put us in racing. I can’t thank them enough. Thanks Dad, Mom, I love you. I have a great family that put us in racing, and it’s just so emotional to come to my track and win. Unbelievable.”

Joey Logano was sixth, followed by Kasey Kahne, Michael Waltrip, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Trevor Bayne.

Chase Elliott, seeking his first NASCAR victory on the sport’s grandest stage, ran out of fuel while leading with three laps remaining. He finished 14th.

Who had a good race: Almirola gave a boost to Richard Petty Motorsports, which contracted to one car in the offseason. The No. 43 Ford led and ran in the top 10 for much of the second half.

Blaney rebounded in a backup car, taking the lead with some aggressive moves to score his career-best finish.

Almirola and Menard scored career-best Daytona 500 finishes, and Allmendinger tied his best at Daytona.

Who had a bad race: How much time do you have?

Kyle Busch’s recent trouble at Daytona continued when he lost control in Turn 4, and his No. 18 Toyota collected Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones in the wreck.

Corey LaJoie’s Daytona 500 debut will be remembered for one of the more egregious rookie mistakes in the race’s history – a near head-on collision with the frontstretch wall after losing control while missing the entrance to the pits.

Former Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray was at the focal point of multiple multi-car pileups that took out Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Daniel Suarez.

Notable: Kahne led for the first time since Oct. 25, 2015 at Talladega Superspeedway. … Kyle Busch won the first stage of the 2017 season (and in the history of points races in NASCAR’s premier series). … Kevin Harvick won the second stage. … Both Busch and Harvick crashed after picking up 10 points. … There were only five of 40 cars that weren’t listed as in a crash.

Quote of the race: “I really enjoyed the whole week. We had a lot of fun. Everybody was looking forward to getting back to the race track. It meant a lot to me. And I’m just sorry we weren’t able to deliver a better result today for all our fans and everybody that was looking forward to today. We had a great car. At least we went out leading the race.” – Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 37th in his return after missing the second half of the 2016 season (concussion).

What’s next: The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, 2:46 p.m., March 5 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Fox.

Darlington celebrates NASCAR’s 70th birthday by revealing 4th throwback weekend details

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Darlington Raceway on Thursday celebrated the 70th birthday of NASCAR in a big way, announcing details for the fourth annual NASCAR throwback weekend.

The track revealed the 2018 edition of the throwback weekend will celebrate “Seven Decades of NASCAR,” to be held Aug. 31-Sept. 2 at the legendary 1.366-mile track.

The weekend will include the Cup Series’ Bojangles’ Southern 500 and the Xfinity Series’ Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200.

NASCAR held its first of several organizational meetings on Dec. 14, 1947, at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Florida. That ultimately led to the official formation of NASCAR on Feb. 21, 1948.

The throwback weekend will honor and feature highlights of some of the biggest moments in the sport’s history over its first 70 years.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for Darlington Raceway and the NASCAR industry to celebrate the sport over a seven decade period during our 2018 throwback weekend,” Darlington Raceway President Kerry Tharp said in a media release.

“We have been era specific the past three years,” Tharp added, “so we felt it was important to recognize the 70th anniversary of NASCAR with our ‘Seven Decades of NASCAR’ celebration next season and give the teams, sanctioning body and others a wider brush to paint a picture capturing memorable moments we might not have celebrated in year’s past.”

Memorable moments to be celebrated include several that took place at Darlington itself, including Ned Jarrett’s record-setting 14-lap victory in the 1965 Southern 500, Ricky Craven’s record-setting photo finish win over Kurt Busch in 2003, and Jimmie Johnson’s 2012 Southern 500 win, which gave team owner Rick Hendrick his 200th career victory, among others.

Cup winners of the first three throwback weekends have been Carl Edwards (2015), Martin Truex Jr. (2016) and Denny Hamlin (2017).

As has been the case for the first three throwback weekends, the track will once again issue commemorative tickets for the Southern 500.

“We have produced commemorative tickets for our fans every year of the throwback program, which is an important part of our platform,” Tharp said. “We appreciate how much the fans have supported Darlington Raceway and want them to walk away from our weekend with a special keepsake that recognizes our rich history and honors the stars of our sport.”

Front Row Motorsports adds Michael McDowell, expands technical alliance with Roush Fenway

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Front Row Motorsports will field entries for David Ragan and Michael McDowell in 2018 while expanding its technical alliance with Roush Fenway Racing, the team announced Thursday.

McDowell joins the Bob Jenkins-owned team after four years of driving the No. 95 Chevrolet for Leavine Family Racing before being replaced by Kasey Kahne.

The native of Phoenix, Arizona, McDowell replaces Landon Cassill as Ragan’s teammate.

McDowell, 32, has 249 Cup starts since 2008, but only two full-time seasons under his belt. He made one start for Front Row at Watkins Glen in 2013.

“Since I first drove for Bob at Watkins Glen, we’ve kept in touch and have felt like there might be an opportunity to work together again, and the timing worked out perfectly,” McDowell said in a press release. “It’s been a while since I’ve had a teammate, so I’m really looking forward to working with David, whom I’ve become pretty good friends with over the years. As a team now, we go into the season knowing we have five or six races that put us in position to get a win and earn a spot in the playoffs.”

Ragan returns to Front Row for his fifth season. Ragan earned the organization its first Cup victory in 2013 at Talladega. Ragan has two wins, 15 top fives and 39 top-10 finishes in his Cup career.

“Bob Jenkins and I have developed a good relationship over the years, both professionally and personally,” Ragan said in a press release. “I believe in this team and am proud to have been part of its growth and its successes. I’m excited that Bob and Ford have agreed to take the program to the next level, and I’m happy I’ll be here to help the team continue to grow.”

Crew chief assignments have not been finalized. FRM will announce sponsor partners and driver car numbers at a later date.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s ‘Last Ride’ diecast is Lionel Racing’s bestselling ever

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has set a new benchmark for Lionel Racing’s most purchased diecast in its 25-year history.

Lionel Racing, NASCAR’s official diecast producer, has announced that the diecast of Earnhardt’s “Last Ride” No. 88 Chevrolet in the Cup season finale last month is now its bestselling diecast in company history.

The “Last Ride” car is based on the No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet that Earnhardt drove in his rookie Cup season in 2000.

The previous bestseller was another Earnhardt diecast, for his 2014 Daytona 500 win.

Lionel Racing says that QVC’s “For Race Fans Only” show that featured Earnhardt and unveiled the car helped contribute to sales. But even without QVC, sales of the “Last Ride” diecast outpaced the 2014 Daytona 500 diecast by more than 10,000 units.

“The demand for this car has been simply astounding,” Lionel Racing President Howard Hitchcock said on the company’s website. “The fan response to this diecast is a true measure of how much Earnhardt has meant to both casual NASCAR fans and serious diecast collectors.”

Lionel Racing has also revealed the top-10 selling diecasts for the year, which you can find below. Earnhardt has six cars on the list. Chase Elliott has two and Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney each have one.

Casey Mears likely to split 2018 between NASCAR, Global Rallycross and Stadium Super Trucks

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Casey Mears still plans to compete part-time in NASCAR in 2018, but he’s also looking to expand his racing horizons.

The veteran NASCAR driver told The Checkered Flag recently that he also expects to race in the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, as well as Robby Gordon’s Stadium Super Trucks series.

“Right now I’m talking to a few NASCAR programs to do maybe limited stuff,” Mears told The Checkered Flag. “I don’t have anything that would be a full-time ride in a NASCAR series.

“I’ve been speaking with Robby Gordon in the Stadium Super Truck program. I think that’s a really cool up-and-coming-series and I’d definitely like to be involved with the GRC. It looks like a lot of fun.

“I think there’s enough difference between all those that it could leave room for doing a bit of both so we’ll see how it works out.”

Mears did not race in the Cup Series in 2017, having lost his ride at the end of 2016 to Ty Dillon in the No. 13 Geico Chevy. He has amassed 488 starts and one win (2007 Coca-Cola 600) in his Cup career, along with 13 top fives and 51 top 10s.

However, he did compete on a part-time basis in 2017 in the Xfinity Series, making 14 starts, with season-best finishes of ninth place at both Richmond and Road America. He also has 107 Xfinity starts with one win, 16 top fives and 34 top 10s.