DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) – Kyle Busch saw several cars clustered around the inside lane and another one crawling along in the outside lane.
He felt he had no choice but to swerve right, driving through the grass, passing several cars and taking the lead coming off pit road.
It turned out to be Busch’s best move of the race.
The risky maneuver propelled Busch to the front and eventually to his first NASCAR victory at Daytona International Speedway – a win in the rain-delayed Busch Series race Saturday morning.
“It was either that or stop,” Busch said. “Some of those guys were lost on pit road. I’m not sure what’s going on with that. It was kind of a cluster. I wasn’t sure if we were going to get busted.”
NASCAR officials reviewed the move, but decided not to penalize Busch. They warned him, though, telling him not to do it again. Busch obliged and picked up his eighth career series win – his first since March 26, 2006, at Bristol.
NASCAR started reviewing another aspect of Busch’s car after the race. Officials confiscated the front springs from his Chevrolet and were sending them to the research and development center in North Carolina for review.
The sanctioning body said the spring rates were “slightly under” the minimum allowed by rule. Officials said results would be released next week.
It’s not likely NASCAR would strip Busch of his victory, but the inspection could lead to more sanctions for Hendrick Motorsports, which had two of its Nextel Cup teams fined and docked points two weeks ago. Crew chiefs for Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson also were suspended.
“It was definitely a good race car,” said Busch, whose only other win at Daytona came in a 2004 ARCA race. “All we had to do was keep it out front and keep the mistakes to a minimum. Really there were none today.”
Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick came from the back of the field several times and finished second, followed by Dave Blaney, Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer. Series points leader Carl Edwards crossed the finish line 11th, three spots ahead of defending race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr.
The top eight spots went to Nextel Cup regulars. None of them had enough to beat Busch.
He celebrated the win with a burnout and a beer shower in Victory Lane, then joined 19 other drivers in retreating to their motorhomes to rest up for the Nextel Cup event scheduled about nine hours later – a rare day-night doubleheader created when rain washed out the Busch race Friday night.
The 20 Cup regulars were facing a long day of 650 miles of racing.
Busch dominated much of the 102-lap morning event, taking the lead on lap 24 following a round of pit stops. He turned into the grass to avoid congestion around the pit road exit, passing Bowyer, Kyle Krisiloff and others for the lead. He then stayed out front pretty much the rest of the way, leading 61 of the final 64 laps.
Busch, who will lose his Nextel Cup ride with Hendrick Motorsports at the end of this season to make room for Earnhardt, has become NASCAR’s top free agent, and his victory at Daytona could make him even more sought after.
He could have also won both races here in February.
Busch dominated the early part of the last Busch race at Daytona, leading 46 laps before a fuel pressure problem ended his day.
He was strong again in the Cup race the following day, but then caused a massive wreck on the final lap that helped Harvick edge Mark Martin at the finish line.
Several cars had a shot at Busch in the final laps Saturday, but no one had the speed to get by him.
Juan Pablo Montoya spun with two laps remaining, bringing out the sixth caution, bunching up the field and setting up a green-white-checkered finish.
But Busch was perfect on the restart, holding off Harvick and Blaney and making the final two laps look easy.