Another chapter in Jeff Gordon’s storied career was unfolding in the first half of the Daytona 500.
Gordon has said this will be his last year in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, and the four-time champion hoped to kick off the year with his fourth Daytona 500 victory.
He put his No. 24 Chevrolet on the pole and led most of his race-high 87 laps in the first half of the event. But he was collected in a multicar crash on the second of two overtime laps and finished 33rd at Daytona International Speedway.
Even so, Gordon savored the day. “I enjoyed every moment of it,” he said. “I enjoyed the pre-race [ceremonies] and the race, all the way up to that wreck.
“Right now I’m a little bit sad this is my final Daytona 500,” Gordon added, “but I’m more upset that we didn’t have a shot at winning there at the end.”
The two drivers who pinch-hit for the Busch brothers both put in a respectable race and finished in the top half of the pack.
Regan Smith, filling in for suspended Kurt Busch, finished 16th in the No. 41 Chevy prepared by Stewart-Haas Racing.
Two-time NASCAR truck series champion Matt Crafton, driving for injured Kyle Busch in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota, was 18th in his first career Cup start.
“The first half we just rode around and tried to learn, learn, learn,” Crafton said. “I should have had a little better finish there at the end, but it is what it is.”
Kyle Busch broke his right leg and left foot Saturday while driving in the second-level NASCAR Xfinity race at Daytona. He had surgery on the right leg at a local hospital. Before the Daytona 500, Gibbs told reporters that there was no timetable on how soon Kyle Busch would be able to race again, and his replacement for upcoming races has yet to be named.
NASCAR suspended Kurt Busch indefinitely after a family court judge said it was “more likely than not” that the driver committed domestic violence against an ex-girlfriend last fall. Busch denies the allegations.
Tony Stewart is now 0 for 17 in the Daytona 500.
The three-time Cup champion was running fourth early in the race when his No. 14 Chevrolet suddenly got sideways and turned into the outside wall on the front stretch.
The car suffered major damage and, despite lengthy attempts at repairs in the garage, Stewart was done for the day. He finished next to last in the 43-car field.
“That particular lap it got away from me,” Stewart said.