Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 51 Phoenix Construction Services Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing, was a solid fixture in the top-10 until just past the halfway point of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 Saturday night at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
But a multi-car accident on lap 92 of the 160-lap contest proved to be the beginning of the end of the bid by 2004 Sprint Cup champion Busch for his second victory in as many nights at the 2.5-mile superspeedway and led to a disappointing 35th-place finish.
Busch, who drove the No. 1 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet to victory in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Jalapeno 250 Friday night at Daytona, wasted little time moving forward from his 35th starting position tonight. He reached the top-10 before the race was seven laps old and stayed there until the fateful incident on lap 92.
He found a hole between the inside and outside lines of traffic and began advancing positions until he came upon Aric Almirola on the low side and Trevor Bayne on the high side. Busch had room between the two before Bayne appeared to make a quick move to the left to try and close the gap. At the same time, Almirola washed up the track and contacted Busch’s left-front quarter panel, sending Busch up the track into the left side of Bayne’s car.
Busch immediately dove into the pits to begin repair work on front-end and right-side damage. When the race restarted on lap 96, Busch was in 34th place and the first car a lap down to the leaders after multiple stops to try and fix the wounded racecar. But almost immediately, Busch radioed to his crew that the car did not feel stable, at which time he was directed to the garage for major repair work on the front-end suspension.
By the time the repairs were complete, Busch was 27 laps down and in 37th place when he rejoined the race on lap 135. He gained two spots before the checkered flag flew on lap 160.
“I guess I had way too good of a Daytona in 2011 (finishes of 14th and fifth) and just wasn’t meant to have a good one this year,” said a disappointed Busch on the radio during the closing laps. “It’s the law of average, I guess. You just spin the roulette wheel, see who comes out of it and spin it again. That’s how it works, I guess.”
“Kurt was just racing hard,” said Phoenix Racing Sprint Cup crew chief Nick Harrison, who also directed the Nationwide Series win Friday night from atop the pit box. “The way you race in packs here, it’s really tight. When guys are trying to battle over the same territory, that sort of stuff just happens. It was unlucky and he’s down on himself a little bit, but he’s fine. He knows it’s just part of this racing. That’s just emotion coming out of him. He wanted to win and he wanted to sweep the weekend, and that’s what we love about him.”
Tony Stewart won the Coke Zero for 400 to score his 47th career Sprint Cup win, his third this season and his fourth at Daytona. With the victory, Stewart moved into 14th on the all-time NASCAR Sprint Cup win list. He previously was tied with NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Buck Baker. The win was Stewart’s 18th all-time at Daytona, which includes non-points Sprint Cup events, NASCAR Nationwide Series events and IROC races. The victory places Stewart second on the track’s all-time win list, 16 behind the legendary Dale Earnhardt (34).
Jeff Burton finished second behind Stewart in the runner-up spot as the race ended under caution, while Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Michael Waltrip and Bobby Labonte comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were six caution periods for a total of 23 laps, with 14 drivers failing to finish the 160-lap race.
With round 18 of 36 complete, Busch dropped one spot to 25th in the championship standings with 365 points, 311 behind series leader Kenseth.