HAMPTON, GA - FEBRUARY 28:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet, leads the field past the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 28, 2016 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

NASCAR entry lists for Atlanta Motor Speedway

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Speedweeks is finally over and all three of NASCAR’s national series will once again be in action this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

It will be the last time the Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series will be at the same track until May.

Kyle Busch will start in all three races.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for all three events, beginning with the Cup Series’ Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500.

There are 38 cars entered into the Cup race. A full field would be 40 cars.

The trip to the 1.5-mile track will be the first start of the season for Derrike Cope, Timmy Hill, rookie Gray Gaulding and Reed Sorenson.

Last year, Jimmie Johnson won his first race of the season after short pitting and leading the final 45 laps for his fifth Atlanta win.

Click here for the full entry list.

Xfinity Series – Rinnai 250

A full field of 40 cars are entered into the Xfinity Series race.

There are eight Cup drivers in the field: Kyle Busch, Ty and Austin Dillon, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson.

Last year, Busch led 119 of 163 laps to win the Atlanta race, the first of three straight wins for Busch.

Click here for the full entry list.

Truck Series – Active Pest Control 200

There are 34 trucks entered into the second truck race of the year.

A full field in the Truck series is 32 trucks. Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch are the only Cup drivers entered into the race.

Alex Bowman will drive the No. 24 truck for GMS Racing in place of Justin Haley, who isn’t old enough to run on tracks 1.5-miles or larger.

Last year, John Hunter Nemechek won the race after leading the last eight laps, including the final two in an overtime finish.

Click here for the full entry list.

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Ryan: What Brian France was trying to say before Daytona 500 … and other stray thoughts

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Cars race during the 59th Annual DAYTONA 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 26, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Imagine this beginning to the drivers meeting at Atlanta Motor Speedway this coming Sunday.

NASCAR chairman Brian France, sporting a cowboy hat, snakeskin boots and a faded pair of Wranglers, strides with purpose to a mic at the front of the room and says something akin to the following:

“OK, boys, I don’t usually talk competition, but this is the last race on this old pavement. You’ve got to be careful and conserve those tires! And don’t come looking to NASCAR if you wear them tires out too much! That’s on you, boys — not Goodyear. Let’s go racin’!”

Wouldn’t that seem slightly odd from France, whose greatest strength as NASCAR czar has been his boardroom comfort with cutting multimillion-dollar (sometimes multibillion-dollar) deals that have provided long-term financial security?

Well, it wasn’t that far from what happened before Sunday’s 59th running of the Daytona 500.

In an address and approach that even France twice admitted was unusual for him, he commandeered the start of the prerace meeting and spent about 90 seconds sternly admonishing Cup drivers for something they hadn’t done yet.

NASCAR chief racing developmental officer Steve O’Donnell tried to explain what France meant after the race.

“His point today was just the way we have seen the racing play out,” O’Donnell told a small group of reporters. “Drivers are really learning and getting used to the pack, and so his point was we know drivers are going to be aggressive. Don’t come to NASCAR if something were to happen if you attempted to block.”

But had any drivers recently complained to NASCAR about blocking? “No.”

Had he planned to make that statement? “Not sure. You’d have to ask Brian.”

OK, so how to unpack this?

First, it is peculiar to take a stand on scolding drivers who feel aggrieved after blocking, because it virtually never happens.

It’s the drivers who are blocked who get angry and vow retribution. They don’t look for help from NASCAR, though. The justice gets meted out at their own hands, i.e. with a flick of the wheel into someone’s rear fender.

And for the drivers who block and then get dealt vicious payback? They usually provide a sheepish shrug and “I was just trying to do everything I could to win.”

How would it make sense to lobby NASCAR to punish a driver for action that another driver forced them into taking? Well, it doesn’t.

So what were the point of France’s words, which sometimes can be opaque enough to require translation?

Well, it’s hard to ignore the fact that last week was rough as far as the leadership of NASCAR being questioned, and this certainly seemed a visible move by France to dispel the notion he isn’t engaged (as others have intimated in the past).

In the context of the conclusion of Speedweeks, his point also seems clearer. Factoring in two red flags, the Xfinity race went well past three hours Saturday because of a vast array of moronic driving, which also was evident during Friday’s truck race.

NASCAR couldn’t afford to have its signature event marred by rampant amateurism, and that almost seemed as if it were the underlying thrust of France’s comments, which might have been taken thusly by some: “This is the biggest race of the year. Don’t screw this up like the young punks the past two days with dumb blocking moves and then whine about it.”

–The debut of stages made pacing a theme for scrutiny, but they had nothing to do with the biggest problem of elapsed time at Daytona International Speedway: the speed of the track cleanup.

The Xfinity race was marred by two red flags that took more than 45 minutes, and the Daytona 500 race was stopped for 17 minutes to tidy the messes left by a relatively benign six-car crash that usually doesn’t cause such a long break.

During his weekly spot on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, O’Donnell said improving the efficiency of track cleanup was the single-most important issue to fix from Speedweeks.

A broken splitter stuck underneath a SAFER barrier was a culprit Saturday and another splitter got stuck Sunday. O’Donnell said it took too long to remove the splitter the second time and also to get the oil off the track. “Anything we can do to speed that process up, we’ll do it.”

From a vantage point in the press box, some of the cleanup problems could be attributed to poor execution with trucks failing to put SpeedyDry down in the right places to absorb the oil (some of which was against the wall, which makes the process difficult on a high-banked track). That required multiple passes to address the mess.

This might necessitate NASCAR rethinking its approach to track cleanup as it did with track drying a few years ago.

The problem with the splitter likely will be reviewed at the NASCAR R&D Center this week. Again, it’s more challenging to remove debris from a barrier at a high-banked track, but it’s worth analyzing if there’s a reason why those pieces detached from cars during wrecks on consecutive days.

There’s been some debate over the merits of Kurt Busch’s win in the Daytona 500 squelching a triumph featuring some of the youthful storylines that seemed promising in the closing laps. NASCAR certainly has been pushing the narratives of Chase Elliott (who was leading until running out of fuel until two laps remaining), Kyle Larson (leading on the last lap when his tank ran dry) and runner-up Ryan Blaney.

That said, the career arc of crew chief Tony Gibson, a local hero born and raised in Daytona Beach, undoubtedly makes Busch’s win a heartwarming one. Affectionately known as “Old Man,” Gibson is one of the truly good-hearted dudes in the NASCAR garage, and his loyalty to his team deservedly was rewarded Sunday.

NASCAR heavily has promoted the next wave of young stars, so it’s hard to see how it would have been displeased with Elliott, Larson or Blaney winning. But officials privately took umbrage at the suggestion that Busch’s win somehow didn’t “save” Sunday’s race … because they believe the race (and its late drama around fuel mileage) stood on its own merits regardless of who won or how many caution flags occurred in the process.

Was this the weirdest Daytona 500 since the 2011 victory by Trevor Bayne in the rise of tandem racing?

It certainly seemed so. Hard to recall any Cup race in recent memory when so many favorites were eliminated before crunch time.

–Speaking of Bayne, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he heard from some angry competitors in the wake of Daytona. Ditto for 2010 Daytona 500 winner Jamie McMurray, who seemed to race as if his job were on the line in the season opener.

–Now that Kurt Busch finally has a restrictor-plate win in his 64th attempt, who are the most talented active drivers without a Daytona 500 win?

The list starts with Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. But there’s a significant dropoff to the next group. Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson both proved in the past two seasons they are worthy of winning here, but neither has endured the kind of agony and near-misses that made Dale Earnhardt’s quest for a Daytona 500

Keselowski and Kyle Busch seemingly are starting to be tortured by the same demons that plagued Earnhardt for so long … and seemed to follow Tony Stewart for most of his Daytona 500 career.

At least Smoke finally had something to celebrate Sunday after 17 winless shots.

–There were some facets of Monster’s debut as title sponsor (such as a lack of signage and activation at Daytona) that seemed curious. But bringing Rob Gronkowski to the Daytona 500 was a huge coup for the energy drink brand.

Even if you aren’t a fan of the New England Patriots or bro party culture, it still is easy to be amused by the zeal and zest for life incessantly embodied by the man playfully known as “Gronk.”

Gronk attend. NASCAR win.

What drivers said after the 59th Daytona 500

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Kurt Busch won his first Daytona 500, while favorites such as Chase Elliott, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and others either fell short or were involved in the multitude of wrecks that made up Sunday’s 59th edition of “The Great American Race.”

And as can be expected, with both the excitement of the win and the disappointment of early exits, drivers had lots to talk about after the race:

Kurt Busch (winner): “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. 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. The more unpredictability that keeps unfolding at the Daytona 500, I predicted it. It just got crazy and wild and I am so proud of all the drivers at the end. We put on a show for a full fuel run and nobody took each other out and it was one of the smartest chess games I have seen out there. All the hard work that Ford and SHR put into this — this Ford Fusion is in Daytona’s victory lane.”

Ryan Blaney (finished 2nd): “I tried to make a move with 10 to go and I didn’t go anywhere. I thought we were kind of stuck. Luckily we had the 22 (Joey Logano) with us. I kind of helped him and he kind of helped me. … I got to second behind the 41 (Kurt Busch) somehow and that kept us going the whole way. I laid back to the 47 (AJ Allmendinger) thinking I’d get a good run and I was sputtering and running out of gas on the backstretch. It was a solid race. … Not what we wanted but a pretty good run and start to the season.”

AJ Allmendinger (3rd): “I was kind of looking at the fuel pressure gauge, the window, the mirror; and the last 10 laps, knowing that we were pretty close, I was just trying to run in that pack and run quarter throttle and trying to hold my spot the best I could. I knew everybody was close and it might come down to who did run out of fuel. … More than anything else just to have a good start to this 2017 season, the effort is there. Our equipment is there. We’ve just got to put it together. Hopefully this is a great start.”

Aric Almirola (4th): “It was a wild day. I can’t believe how many cars were involved in wrecks here and there. We were able to get through quite a few of them and our car just didn’t quite have the speed we needed to make the big runs and complete the big passes, but all in all it was a good day for our Smithfield Ford Fusion. … We’ll take it and get ready for Atlanta.  The Daytona 500, you always want to come out of here with a good start to the season.”

Paul Menard (5th): “It’s a good finish. It was exciting. We were right in the middle of half of the crashes. Got a little bit of right rear damage early, but the guys fixed it. (Crew chief Matt Borland) made a really good call to short pit for some fuel so we didn’t have to take as much fuel at the end. We were on pretty old tires, and I couldn’t run the bottom very well. Those guys were coming on the bottom at the end. I was kind of tentative to get down there. Ran out of fuel out of turn two.  I just nursed it home. I am just really proud of my guys on my Menards Chevrolet. Looking forward to Atlanta.”

Joey Logano (6th): “I just couldn’t get anyone to go for it at the end. 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. … It was crazy to say the least. Right after the last segment it was like everyone turned up the wick a little bit and at the end it was like it burned out.”

Kasey Kahne (7th): “It was tough early being in the back. It took a while to get the track position. But once we got it, we had a great Farmers Insurance Chevrolet. I was just waiting on Kurt (Busch). We were just waiting and waiting and waiting. I kind of gave Kurt that last boost going into one, but then I ran out of gas and the field drove away. It’s disappointing we ran out like that. … I thought it was really good Daytona 500. Glad to be a part of it.”

Michael Waltrip (8th): “It’s going to be a great memory you know to have a top 10. I had so many times I was in the middle of a crash and just missed it. So, you do a good job and you get lucky both. At the end I just lost the draft and that is unfortunate because I was able to weave my way past people. I had a really, really good handling car. I’m thankful that I survived and I’m thankful for being able to run upfront and I’m happy about the finish. I’m ready for it to be my last one so it’s going to be a good one to remember it by.”

Matt DiBenedetto (9th): “That’s a heck of a way to start the year. Holy cow. We survived. We got in that one crash and we hit pretty hard. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s gonna be a long day,’ but the guys did a great job patching it up. It still ran fine. I had good speed. The motor ran great all day, so it was cool. … I’m excited to be back racing and thankful to have a ride. … Being in the Daytona 500 in the first place is unbelievable, so I’m gonna say this one does feel really good just because it’s the Daytona 500 and it’s been my dream since I was five to even be in it, so to get a top-10 in it, I’m just checking off all these dreams come true.”

Trevor Bayne (10th): “What a day. The first-half was pretty calm. I was cruising in the back waiting for all the wrecks to happen and they didn’t. Then I got caught up with the 48;  I’m not sure if it was my fault. I feel bad if it was my fault. I’m spinning and trying to hang on to it, and did. A few laps later we were running in the middle again and somebody hit me in the right rear. It was just nuts. It was like a pinball for a few laps. But at the end of the day we had a good finish, a top 10 finish at Daytona. Overall, we had a really strong car all Speedweeks. This Ford was really fast.”

Brendan Gaughan (11th): “It seemed a little calmer than the Truck race or the Xfinity race. Those had a lot more carnage. But there was still a lot. It is just the nature of Daytona racing.  But it was fun. I enjoy racing here. I am grateful to Beard Motorsports folks for the opportunity in this Chevy with ECR power. I had a top-10 until about 10 feet before finish line. I wish I could have got that for them.”

Kyle Larson (12th): “I almost had a shot to win. I knew we would be close on fuel. They had told me to save as much as I could on the cautions and stuff.  When we went green I was the leader and was wide-open for a handful of laps there. Once I fell back and we got single file up top I was able to run three-quarter or half throttle somewhere around there to save as much fuel as I could just to try and get to the end.  We got to three to go or so and I knew I had to make my move soon to try and get to the win and was able to pass a couple of cars and Chase (Elliott) ran out of fuel and got a good run on the No. 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.) and got by him. I had my fingers crossed, but just came up half-a-lap short on fuel.”

Chase Elliott (14th): “It was a disappointing finish to a good day. 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.”

Landon Cassill (16th): “It was a crazy race. The one wreck was okay and fair and square, and I was kind of in the middle of it all. We fixed the car real good, though. The car wasn’t that badly damaged. The second wreck I was clear of it and there was just one last straggler that hooked me and that was just too bad. It kind of killed the car enough to where we didn’t have speed and from that point we just kind of outlasted the field and got a 16th-place finish, which is okay.”

Austin Dillon (19th): “We had a good day. We put ourselves in good positions all day. We just have to get better. Do not have anything for the really fast cars, but we put ourselves in good positions and that is what happens. Ran out of fuel. Bummer. We will go to Atlanta.”

Kevin Harvick (22nd): “We just got some cars up there that didn’t need to be up there and wound up doing more than their car could do. … We had, I felt, the fastest car in the field and right in contention for both segments and then it’s all tore up and it came to an end.  What do you do? … I think that’s the fastest car I’ve ever had here, so it’s kind of disappointing.”

David Ragan (25th): “The bottom lane stalled a little bit and the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) had a really good run, I don’t know if I got checked up a bit. He was coming hard and touched me. I got a little loose and tried to chase it and he just couldn’t get off me and ran out of room. It was unfortunate to be in that spot but we got lucky that we didn’t get damaged any more than we did. There were a lot of wrecks all day. You always second guess yourself on things and hard your race. … We had a good car. I’m glad we were able to work hard and get some spots there at the end.”

Brad Keselowski (27th): “We did the best we could and controlled everything we could control on our own today. … I thought the stages were good actually and added a nice little element to the race. I didn’t notice guys being any more aggressive than usual. There were a lot of accidents but I would have to see the replays to understand why. … The Fords did a really good job working together and establishing position which helped us avoid one wreck but we couldn’t avoid the 10 of them that there have been today. Our Miller Lite Ford Fusion was fast though, all the Fords were fast. Roush Yates brought some great power here to Daytona. It is exciting.”

Jamie McMurray (28th): “I went to get to the inside of the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) and I got to his left rear and got him turned a little. And then I don’t know who was behind me, but someone got into my left rear, and then I was kind of just along for the ride whenever that happens.”

Daniel Suarez (29th): “I just don’t feel like I did a really good job in the first part of the race. I made a lot of mistakes. I just wasn’t able to slow down enough to get into my (pit) box and then I made a couple mistakes there. We were able to overcome those mistakes and put ourselves back into the game. And actually I was so ready to race because I had been taking care of my car a lot, a lot. I was asking my team, possibly, it’s time to race? It’s time to race? I guess it was still too early.”

Ty Dillon (30th): “Just a bummer because I felt like I had a fast-enough car to get back up there and have a good finish and capitalize on a day that went sour early.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us. … I don’t know what it is about this year, maybe it’s the segments, I don’t know.  It’s got everybody a little more amped up, but there are not a whole lot of cars finishing. I dodged all of them yesterday and ran out of gas in the end and didn’t dodge them all today. It’s just part of racing here at Daytona. That is why it is one of the toughest races to win.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (31st): “We were just running around the top and I just got hit in the left-rear. I’m not really sure what happened below us, but it was a bummer of a day. I thought we brought some really fast Fords down here and just hate that we didn’t really get a result to show for it. … Stage racing hasn’t contributed to any crashes. We finished every stage under green with no issues, so I would say stage racing was not the issue. A couple of them happened right after restarts.”

Clint Bowyer (32nd): “Man I hate the way it ended. No way around it. We got caught up with someone else’s mess. Just really upset right now. We’ve had a good week down here and we still have a lot of racing left in 2017, so I’m pumped about the year. We had a really fast Mobil 1 Ford today.”

Danica Patrick (33rd): “I don’t really know. I just know we were all three-wide and it looks like the 6 (Trevor Bayne) and 48 (Jimmie Johnson) had something happen. There was nowhere to go. They just kept coming and hitting me. … It was the funnest 500 I’ve ever had. Well, probably not 500, more like 300 or 250. It is a real shame. I feel like we could have been a contender at the end, for sure we could have been an influencer.”

Jimmie Johnson (34th): “That could have been avoided and it wasn’t called for. From the minute, I got off of Turn 2 on the entire back straightaway, I kept getting hit and the rear tires are off the ground. I know there is a lot of energy behind me in the pack, but I didn’t have a chance. I fought it the whole straightaway and finally got turned going into (Turn) 3. It’s very unfortunate. I hate it for Lowe’s. I hate it for Chevrolet. We’ll go to Atlanta next week and see what we can do there.”

Chris Buescher (35th): “We just got going in that stage and thought we were running pretty good. It got three wide there, but we were running decently there in the middle. We went down the back three wide and we got to turn three and it looked like all of a sudden, we were four wide, we just ran out of real estate. … It ended up looking like something we saw the last two nights of racing. That is something we didn’t expect to happen here.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (37th): “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. … I don’t really know what happened there with the wreck. It just looks like Kyle (Busch) had a flat tire. I turned the wheel left, but you’re also out of the gas there and it got on the splitter and just kind of goes straight. … It’s going to be a fun season and we’ve got pretty high spirits. This was not the result we wanted today; but like I say, it’s been a great week.”

Kyle Busch (38th): “I don’t know if it was a left rear that went down or the right that went down but man, tore up three JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars in one hit and also Jr. (Dale Earnhardt Jr.). So I feel bad, horrible, for those guys, but man, nothing that we did wrong. You know obviously Goodyear tires just aren’t very good at holding air. It’s very frustrating when we have that down here every single year we’ve been here. Last year we had it as well too. … Thankfully we have I guess a segment point you know out of this day. That’s a positive. But man, you’re trying to win the Daytona 500 here you know. It’s just so disappointing.”

Erik Jones (39th): “We were just kind of riding around and trying to bide our time there. I think we were going to cycle out in a good spot and unfortunately I don’t know if Kyle (Busch) cut a tire or what but when we were cycling through those three cars there he just got loose into (turn) three and lost it and I got in the side of him. Couldn’t do much about it. … We spent most of the day kind of working our way up through and biding our time and we were finally in the position we wanted to be there to be cycled out with some JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) teammates and our Furniture Row teammate (Martin Truex Jr.). Nothing we could do.”

Matt Kenseth (40th): “Went into turn three, made sure I was clear and it looked like Kyle (Busch) spun out in front of Erik (Jones) and I didn’t have anywhere to go. So we had to kind of snake through there and into the corner at a weird angle. I looked back to make sure I was clear and when I looked back up they were already crashed in front of me and I already had Erik (Jones) parked on my hood. Just happened pretty quick. I just didn’t have anywhere to go. Never saw it happen and didn’t have anywhere to go.”

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NASCAR Cup Series point standings after Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500 win

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Kurt Busch has a 12-point lead over Ryan Blaney in the NASCAR Cup Series standings after his win in the Daytona 500.

Busch has 56 points and becomes eligible for the playoffs.

Filling out the top five are Blaney, Joey Logano (-13), Kevin Harvick (-14) and AJ Allmendinger (-17).

Harvick has 42 points after winning the second stage of the race.

Kyle Busch is 29th with 11 points after winning the first stage and finishing 29th after a crash.

Click here for the full points report.

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.