DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kurt Busch kicked-off his bid for a second straight Daytona 500 victory by winning the first stage of the 60th running on Sunday, but a nine-car crash on the final lap of the segment overshadowed Busch’s performance.
As the field hit the backstretch coming to the checkered, contact between Ryan Blaney and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as Blaney thre the block from second ended with chaos at the entrance to turn three.
Even though Stenhouse saved his No. 17 Fastenal Ford, others behind him — including seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson — weren’t able to say the same. The last-lap crash officially included Stenhouse, Blaney, Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, William Byron, Ty Dillon, Kyle Larson and defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr.
Though Alex Bowman led the field to green from the pole, after Bowman elected the outside lane for the initial start, it was Denny Hamlin who used a push from Blaney to take the early advantage and lead the opening circuits.
A top-six breakaway by lap seven saw Hamlin leading rookie Darrell Wallace Jr. before Corey LaJoie drew the first caution of the race working lap nine when smoke trailed from his No. 72 Chevrolet, a blown motor the cause.
Pit stops created chaos as Hamlin overshot his pit and the fueler engaged the gas can, drawing a one-lap penalty that dropped him back as Kurt Busch won the race off pit road to assume the lead for the next restart on the 13th round.
Busch held serve out front until lap 15, when Bowman recharged on the inside to lead his first-career laps in the Daytona 500, followed by a stint out front by Jones after the second-year Cup driver charged to the top spot on the 23rd lap.
On lap 28, just before the halfway point of the first stage, Kyle Busch nearly lost control of his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry with a flat left-rear tire, but was able to grab a fist-full of steering wheel and make it to pit road for a tire change without issue, going a lap down.
Five laps later, double plate-track winner Stenhouse found his way to the front of the field for an 11-lap run before Chase Elliott and Joey Logano began a back-and-forth duel for control of the field, with Logano coming out of top by lap 49.
With 10 to go in the stage, the caution flag flew as Kyle Busch spun in turn three, collecting D.J. Kennington and Jamie McMurray after his second tire issue of the day and setting up a five-lap dash to the stage break.
Kurt Busch and Elliott led the field to green flag after the first five rows stayed out, and Busch was able to wire the final laps of the stage, which ended under caution because of the crash.
Bowman, Stenhouse, Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. skated through the crash and completed the top five.
Michael McDowell crossed in sixth ahead of Kevin Harvick, Elliott, Kyle Larson and Paul Menard, who all scored bonus points as well at the first stage break of the day.
Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman contributed to this story.
About the Writer
Kyle Souza is a Journalism major at the Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island.
Souza is a freelance reporter for NASCARHomeTracks.com, covering the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, as well as a weekly columnist for Trenton, N.J.-based Area Auto Racing News and the lead New England correspondent for Race Chaser Online, covering everything from the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour to the NASCAR Whelen All American Series and the PASS North Super Late Models.
When not writing, Souza works at Seekonk Speedway as the track’s Friday public address announcer.
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