Kurt Busch still has a few more days of sitting on the Daytona 500 winner’s throne. But the Stewart-Haas Racing driver is not exactly comfortable.
“It’s a little bit of pressure, but, at the same time, it’s a great feeling because we accomplished something special,” Busch said of being the defending race winner. “I’m probably the one applying the most pressure to defend the Daytona 500 title because I want to go back-to-back like Sterling Marlin did back in the late nineties.”
Marlin is most recent driver to win consecutive Daytona 500s, doing so in 1994 and 1995. Busch’s triumph last season was his first in the sport’s most prestigious race, as well as the first for SHR.
Sunday in the 60th annual Daytona 500, Busch can put himself in the record books for a number of reasons if he were able to win the race a second straight time.
Elite company would be the first milestone: Busch would be the fourth driver to win back-to-back Daytona 500s. Marlin is the most recent, with Cale Yarborough having done so in 1983-84 and Richard Petty, who has the most Daytona 500 race wins with seven, the first to accomplish the feat in 1973-74.
A NASCAR champion in 2004, Busch has put together an impressive résumé over 17 seasons. A Daytona 500 victory is a nice polish; not many drivers can say they accomplished the same thing. Glancing through the list of winners, a sharp reminder emerges that some of the sport’s greats, such as Mark Martin, Rusty Wallace and Tony Stewart just to name a few, went winless at the 500 throughout their careers.
Eleven is the second magic number. Busch has one Daytona 500 win, which he has cherished for a year. But the second win he covets would make Busch just the 11th driver to have won the Daytona 500 at least twice.
It’s easy to see why the pressure is apparent. However, Busch knows he can learn from last year’s victory. Although it might not be in the way one would imagine.
“I think I’ll do a better job of pacing the party this time around,” he said. “It was tough [last year] because we were just in that Daytona 500 spirit for so long afterward, and rightfully so. It’s the ‘Great American Race.’ It is the most prominent, powerful and prestigious stock car race and to win it was fantastic.
“Today is a day where I feel like it is time to shelf it and move on to 2018, and really focus in on trying to repeat, but also to just give the focus to the car, the team and the race on what we have to do to execute as a team. I think the key word is patience. You never know when it’s the exact time to go and you have to go with your gut a lot in this game, and last year I made the right move on the right lap and I hope to do that again.”