DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Decked in Monster gear and chugging a tall boy of the energy drink as he was flanked by scantily clad models and one of pro sports' top partiers, Kurt Busch celebrated the biggest win of his racing career.
It was Monster Madness!
Busch used a last-lap pass to win the crash-filled Daytona 500 on Sunday in the opening race of Monster Energy's new role as title sponsor of NASCAR's top series. Busch, it just so happens, is also sponsored by Monster, and the company has strongly stood by him through his rocky career.
So this was a victory of redemption for Busch, who was suspended by NASCAR two days before the 2015 Daytona 500 for his off-track behavior, and for Monster, which has promised to pump new life into NASCAR's sagging sport.
"I've had a lot of people that have believed in me through the years, a lot of people that have supported me," Busch said.
Add NFL star Rob Gronkowski to Busch's bandwagon, too.
Gronkowski celebrated with Busch and the Monster girls in victory lane. He raved about the win and seemed to really enjoy his first Daytona 500, the first for NASCAR's new three-segment format and one filled with wrecks.
Gronk and Busch likely will celebrate late into the night, well after the banged-up No. 41 Ford heads to the museum for its yearlong display at Daytona International Speedway.
"The more that becomes unpredictable about Daytona, the more it becomes predictable to predict unpredictability," Busch said. "This car's completely thrashed. There's not a straight panel on it. The strategy today, who knew what to pit when, what segments were what. Everybody's wrecking as soon as we're done with the second segment.
"The more that I've run this race, the more that I just throw caution to the wind, let it rip and just elbows out. That's what we did."
It wasn't NASCAR's finest moment, though, as multiple accidents pared down the field and had a mismatched group of drivers racing for the win at the end.
It appeared to be pole-sitter Chase Elliott's race to lose, then he ran out of gas. So did Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Paul Menard and Kasey Kahne. As they all slipped off the pace, Busch sailed through for his first career Daytona 500 victory in 16 tries.
It also was the first Daytona 500 win for Stewart-Haas Racing, which is co-owned by Tony Stewart. The three-time champion retired at the end of last season and watched his four cars race from the pits.
"I ran this damn race (17) years and couldn't win it, so finally won it as an owner," Stewart said. "It's probably the most patient race I've ever watched Kurt Busch run. He definitely deserved that one for sure."
It was a crushing defeat for Elliott, who is developing a reputation as a driver unable to immediately digest defeat. He left the track without comment in a car driven by his father, Hall of Famer Bill Elliott.
Ryan Blaney finished second in a Ford. AJ Allmendinger was third in a Chevrolet, and Aric Almirola was fourth for Richard Petty Motorsports.
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