Daytona 500 Champion Kurt Busch The Morning After

Kurt Busch, Gene Haas and Tony Glover hold up 1 finger symbolic of their Daytona 500 win. [Joe Jennings Photo]

Kurt Busch, Gene Haas and Tony Glover hold up 1 finger symbolic of their Daytona 500 win. [Joe Jennings Photo]

By Joe Jennings

DAYTONA BEACH – Shortly after sunrise the day after the Daytona 500, there’s a steady stream of campers, motor-coaches and other vehicles exiting the Daytona International Speedway with one exception. Kurt Busch, the newly crowned race champion, his Stewart-Haas Racing crew and their beaten and battered No. 41 Ford Fusion are coming in, headed to the Champion’s Breakfast at the DIS Tickets and Tour building.

The breakfast is a media event, which starts a week of non-stop travel and interviews for Busch. Sharing the spotlight with Busch were SHR co-owner Gene Haas, crew chief Tony Glover and the car, as it was being put on display for the next year.

The car came directly from the Gatorade Victory Lane, and it was covered with confetti and champagne, plus on its hood was a large piece of grass that Busch had dug up while doing his celebratory burnout.

Whether or not Busch had gotten much sleep is unknown but he appeared wide awake and alert, seemingly enjoying the spotlight and looking forward to the week ahead. In victory lane, he called the win surreal and today he was still saying the same, “It is surreal!”

“It was a total team effort, to see the guys here this morning and the way that wins are hard to come by in this series, but to win a Daytona 500 is hard to put into words. It’s beyond belief, really,” Busch noted. “As a kid you watch this race on TV and you live the experiences with each of the drivers that win the race or lose the race, and after 16 years of having it go 16 different ways, when you win it one time it erases all of those memories and you now have this permanent memory of being able to drive into victory lane with a winning car, and a winning car is put together by a great group of guys, a talented group of guys, a committed group of guys and this year it’s even that much more special because we switched over to Ford in the off-season and that brought a lot of change to Stewart-Haas Racing. That change brought everybody together with a different comradery that we hadn’t had before.

“I felt coming to Speedweeks this year I had the most puzzle pieces in place and I just kept believing and here we are as a team as Daytona 500 champions. It’s a great feeling. There was that feeling down the back straightaway that the guys were going to get assembled behind me and draft right on by me because I didn’t have the mirror to look. My wife said something in victory lane last night, ‘You know, it’s an omen that your mirror came apart because you’re not supposed to be looking in the rearview mirror, you’re supposed to be looking out front and what the future holds.’ That meant the most to me, more than anything in victory lane last night.”

Tony Gibson, crew chief of the Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford Fusion and a Daytona Beach native, said about the victory, “It means a lot to me, obviously, and all the guys know this – that I grew up here late model racing and short track racing. I’ve won a lot of races here and championships at local tracks and stuff. We didn’t have any money, so we built everything ourselves.

“When we come through the tunnel for the Daytona 500, you think, ‘Is this going to be the weekend or the time that we win?’ And we’ve been really close before. I’ve won the Daytona 500, and it means a lot to me to finally get this done and top it off and to be in my hometown is tremendous. As a little kid I always dreamed about being a crew chief and then winning the Daytona 500 as a crew chief, and it took me 31 years to finally get it done.”

Asked if he felt a sense of fulfillment, Busch commented, “It’s the Daytona 500. There are countless emotions leading up to the race and this race will wear you out emotionally. To me, I do my best every week. As Gene Haas said last night, ‘I’m a survivor just giving it my all.’ I know I’ve got a great team that I don’t want to let down. I mean we’re Daytona 500 champions and it feels the same as winning the overall title – to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup. I did it in 2004 and this is like a stamp. This is 2017 and let’s keep it going.”

Busch flew to New York later in the morning to begin a whirlwind media tour, a trip that will end up in Atlanta next weekend for the second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the new season.

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