DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 20, 2011) – Shell-Pennzoil Dodge driver Kurt Busch was going for a major piece of racing history in today’s 53rd Annual Daytona 500 here at Daytona International Speedway. After winning last weekend’s Budweiser Shootout and his 150-mile qualifying race on Thursday, Busch was attempting to be the first driver to ever claim all three NASCAR Sprint Cup winner’s trophies in a single Speed Weeks. His effort came up just a little short as he finished fifth in today’s edition of the “Great American Race.”
“What a race,” Busch said of his 11th attempt to win NASCAR’s most prestigious race. “On that last lap, I just needed to stay on the bottom of the track and it just didn’t seem like (Juan Pablo) 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. It’s tough. We came all this way and came up a little shy.
“All in all, it was a great points day for us, though,” said Busch, already taking a look at the big picture. “We’ll 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 and Dodge, AAA, Coca-Cola…this was a great day. Now we can move on to Phoenix and get the real season started. I’m really happy with this fifth-place finish. To make a mistake on the last lap, I’m going to be the one that has the sour feeling in my stomach, though.”
Busch took the green flag from the pole position in today’s race, led the first lap and was a contender throughout the 200-lap, 500-mile battle that required an overtime of eight laps or 20 additional miles to determine today’s winner. Busch went on to lead a total of 19 laps spread out over 10 occasions.
“It was a heart-fought battle all day,” said Busch. “Every lap seemed like it was something different today. 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 Speed Weeks. It’s a great way to start off the season in the Double-Deuce.”
Busch was running third after the incident with Smith brought out the 15th caution flag of the race and set up the first green-white-checkered run to the finish. At that point, it appeared that Kurt and younger brother, Kyle, would team up and make a run to the finish. But when Stewart drafted into the back of Dale Earnhardt Jr. a bit too hard, it triggered another multi-car crash on Lap 202 and forced a second green-white-checkered finish. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch had a tire going flat and was forced to hit pit road.
The strategy was for the “Double Deuce Dodge” to hook up with Montoya when the green flag was displayed again and that plan worked all the way down to the final circuit’s run to the checkered flag. While the 2004 NASCAR Spring Cup Champ was taking it hard on himself immediately after the race, such was not the case of the other Penske team players.
“I think Kurt drove a masterful race today,” said team owner Roger Penske. “It was just one of those days at the end where we needed the right partner. With all the green-white-checkered flags (two), you want to be careful because we’re 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. It’s great for Dodge and Shell-Pennzoil and all of our sponsors.”
“What a stressful day!” said crew chief Steve Addington. “We got a hole knocked in the grille and fought back 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 race cars down here in Daytona. It’s a great way to start the season.”
At the finish line here this afternoon, it was 20-year-old Trevor Bayne pulling off a shocking win behind the wheel of the legendary Wood Brothers Ford. It was a page right out of the history books as the Wood Brothers claimed their fifth win in the 500 here today. The popular Virginia family-owned team was sporting retro colors for their famous No. 21 car and had Hall-of-Famer and former team driver David Pearson advising the driver and team here today.
“Now that was so cool what happened out there that I just had to go to Victory Lane and congratulate those guys,” said Busch of the win in the race that featured a record number of lead changes (74 among 22 drivers) and a record number of cautions (16 for 60 laps). “The Wood Brothers – all that family – means so much to the history of our sport. And here’s this 20-year-old kid who puts them back into the winner’s circle in the biggest stock car race in the world. That’s really incredible and I am so happy for those guys.”
At the finish, it was Carl Edwards pushing winner Bayne across the line and taking the runner-up spot. David Gilliland finished third, with Bobby Labonte fourth and Busch fifth. Montoya finished sixth, with Smith, Kyle Busch, Paul Menard and Mark Martin rounding out the top-10 finishers.
Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski had his Miller Lite “Blue Deuce” Dodge in contention for the majority of the race until contact from Robby Gordon’s Dodge sent him crashing into the outside wall on Lap 167. Keselowski had led two times for nine laps during the race, but had to settle for a 29th-place finish.
With Bayne not being a declared full-time Cup competitor, he is not credited with the points lead after the first of 36 2011 points-paying races has officially been placed in the record book. Edwards is the current leader with 42 points. Gilliland is tied for second with 41, with Busch fourth (40) and Montoya (39) fifth. Smith (38) is sixth, with Kyle Busch (37) seventh, Menard (36) eighth, Martin (34) and A.J. Allmendinger (34) tied for ninth.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads out to Phoenix International Raceway for next weekend’s Subway Fresh Fit 500. The Phoenix Cup action gets under way on Friday with practice sessions scheduled from 12:30 p.m. till 1:50 p.m. and from 4:00 p.m. till 5:25 p.m. Saturday’s 1:40 p.m. single round of qualifying will determine the entire 43-car starting field. Sunday’s 312-lap, 312-mile (500 kilometer) race is scheduled to get the green flag at 1:00 p.m. local time and features live coverage by FOX-TV and MRN Radio.