February 15, 2009
Mid-Race Accident Ends Busch’s Bid for Daytona 500 Victory
Date: Feb. 15, 2009
M&M'S® Driver Leads Twice for 88 laps, but Can’t Avoid Multi-Car Melee
Event: 51st Daytona 500 (Round 1 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway
Start/Finish: 4th/41st (Accident, completed 123 of 152 laps in rain-shortened race)
Winners: Matt Kenseth of Roush Fenway Racing (Ford)
Kyle Busch led twice for a race-high 88 laps in the 51st Daytona 500, but a mid-race accident brought heartbreak to the driver and his Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) team in the season-opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Busch’s No. 18 M&M'S® Toyota Camry was the class of the 43-car field, and the 23-year-old appeared ready to bring a second Daytona 500 victory to JGR, book-ending the one Dale Jarrett brought the team back in 1993.
Busch’s nightmarish ending was caused by a chain of events that began with a caution period on lap 119 when David Stremme’s right-rear tire blew and left debris on the track. Busch, who was leading at the time, pitted for four tires and fuel on lap 120 and was the first car off pit road.
During the round of pit stops, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew serviced his car outside the boundaries of his pit box, whereupon NASCAR officials brought him back to pit road to serve a one-lap penalty.
At the time, this appeared to have no bearing on Busch’s day, for he could seemingly point his M&M’s Toyota wherever he wanted. But appearances can be deceiving.
Richard Petty Motorsports teammates Reed Sorenson and Elliott Sadler were pitting when the caution came out, so when the race restarted on lap 124, the top-five was Sadler, Sorenson, Busch, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards.
On the inside of those five cars was a line of cars one lap down, which included the Chevrolet of Earnhardt and the Toyota of Brian Vickers.
While the lead pack of cars raced down the backstretch, the right-front of Earnhardt’s car made contact with the left-rear of Vickers’ machine, causing Vickers to lose control. Vickers’ Toyota shot up the racetrack toward the outside retaining wall and directly into the path of Busch, who had nowhere to go. All told, 10 cars were involved in the melee, and Busch’s dream of victory in the 51st Daytona 500 came to an abrupt end as his car slid to the bottom of the racetrack.
Unable to drive his M&M’s Toyota back to the garage, Busch’s battered machine was towed to his equally disappointed crew in the garage. As his team began surveying the damage, Busch was checked and released from the infield care center without injury.
“It’s just a shame,” Busch said. “The M&M’s Toyota was so, so strong today and led all those laps and was running up front. It was just unfortunate that two guys got together that were a lap down and were fighting over nothing.
“I think we were the best car out there. Us, the 24 (Jeff Gordon) was strong, the 11 (Denny Hamlin) was strong, a couple other guys that we were battling with, but I felt like our car was the car to beat. We were awfully good and just running out front and biding our time. I don’t think we fell worse than sixth or fifth the whole time out there. Just a really sad feeling.”
Twenty-nine laps after Busch exited the race, rain fell over the 2.5-mile oval and the remaining cars were brought to pit road under a red flag condition. Minutes later, Kenseth, who was directly behind Busch during the accident, was declared the winner of the rain-shortened race, which was officially called after only 152 of 200 scheduled laps were run, or 380 of the 500 scheduled miles. It was Kenseth’s first Daytona 500 victory, his 17th career Sprint Cup win and his first since November 2007 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It was also the first Daytona 500 victory for owner Jack Roush.
Busch’s JGR teammates – Hamlin and Joey Logano – finished 26th and 43rd, respectively. Hamlin was caught up in the same accident as Busch, while Logano made contact with the SAFER Barrier on the inside of turn four on lap 79 after a long slide off the corner. Logano was uninjured, but his team was unable to repair his No. 20 Toyota.
With round one of 36 complete, Busch is 38th in the championship point standings, 140 markers behind series leader Kenseth. Hamlin is 27th, 105 markers arrears Kenseth. Logano sits 43rd, 156 points out of first.
Kevin Harvick finished second, while A.J. Allemendinger, Clint Bowyer and Sadler rounded out the top-five. David Ragan, Michael Waltrip, Stewart, Sorenson and Kurt Busch comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were eight caution periods for 35 laps, with four drivers failing to finish the rain-shortened race. It marked only the fourth time the Daytona 500 has been cut short by rain.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Feb. 22 Auto Club 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. The race begins at 6 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 5 p.m.