Kurt Busch came out of nowhere in the final lap to win Sunday's wild 2017 Daytona 500.
The accident-filled day featured big names such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and others going into the garage early. There were eight caution flags over the course of the race, but NASCAR's new five-minute rule for repairs also forced several drivers to end their day without a chance to return.
Kurt Busch avoided each of the big wrecks and came through with his first-ever Daytona 500 victory despite leading for only a single lap. This unique effort put him in the record books:
Here are the final results from Daytona International Speedway and the official standings after one race:
|Daytona 500 Results|
|Pos.||Driver||Car||Time Back (Seconds)|
|2017 Monster Energy Series Standings|
The theme of the day was chaos, as one big crash after another took out top contenders.
Former driver Mark Martin provided his thoughts on the race:
Of the 40 contenders to begin the day, only 25 were still running at the end. However, there were no stoppages in the final 30 laps, which caused some top contenders to run out of fuel.
The final push was all Busch needed to earn the checkered flag:
Ryan Blaney and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top three in a race that looked much different for most of the day.
The Daytona 500 featured three different stages, handing out points for leaders after the first 60 laps and the second 60 laps before the final 80 decided the race.
Chase Elliott began the first stage in the lead after earning the pole in qualifying, but the first 60 laps featured 12 lead changes. This bizarre moment by Corey LaJoie forced the only caution during that time:
Kevin Harvick remained competitive for much of the opening stage, but Kyle Busch crossed the line first to earn 10 regular-season points and one bonus point for the playoff.
His wife, Samantha, was excited about the early victory:
Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Keselowski and Earnhardt rounded out the top five in the first stage to kick off their season with points.
Busch's day turned in a hurry, however, when a blown tire caused a wreck that also took out Earnhardt, who had led for much of the second stage. Ty Dillon, Matt Kenseth and Erik Jones were also involved in the crash.
Fox Sports captured the accident that led to a red flag during Lap 104:
Earnhardt's team tried to fix his car in the required time, but he and Busch were forced to end their day prematurely. Steve Letarte of NBC summed up the challenge for these drivers:
Elliott Sadler also suffered some damage, but he escaped the pileup and ended up with the lead at the red flag.
Harvick picked up the lead on the restart, and despite a late challenge from Joey Logano, he won the second stage.
NASCAR captured the close finish in the second stage:
Plenty more drama unfolded in the race's final stage, as a big crash took out another chunk of contenders shortly after it began. Johnson's car sustained the most damage, but Clint Bowyer, Danica Patrick and others were taken out in the wreck that involved 16 different cars.
Fox Sports provided a look at the accident from Johnson's perspective:
A few laps later, another big crash claimed Keselowski and Jamie McMurray.
Max Bretos of ESPN summed up the bizarre trend:
Suddenly, lesser-known drivers such as Cole Whitt and Aric Almirolo were leading the most famous race in the sport.
Joey Logano and Elliott eventually took over and battled for the lead with the race finally clearing up. Those in contention moved to single file with under 10 laps remaining, with Elliott leading the pack.
When it seemed as though Elliott would come away with his first career win, he ran out of fuel with just two laps remaining. The same happened to Kyle Larson, who briefly led before fading in the final laps.
Earnhardt was one of many on edge watching the nerve-racking conclusion:
Busch ultimately came through with the win, largely because he avoided catastrophe during a wreck-filled day.
The NASCAR season is now in full swing, with the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 taking place next Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. While the year is just getting started, all of these drivers know how valuable getting an early win would be.
"My rearview mirror fell off with 30 to go," Kurt Busch said after his win, per Performance Racing Network. "I said that's an omen."
If that didn't sum up the craziness of the race, he elaborated on it later.
"The more unpredictable it becomes at Daytona, the more predictable it becomes in its unpredictability," Busch added, per Heather Tucker of USA Today.
Kyle Busch likely wanted to end the race in his car, but he at least got a chance to watch his older brother earn his first Daytona win:
Another notable driver who didn't finish the race remained upbeat afterward.
"We had a great car," Earnhardt said, per Nate Ryan of NBC Sports. "At least we went out leading the race."
The long list of drivers who made early exits can only hope to bounce back with a more favorable finish next week in Atlanta.