Nothing like a good game of “Would You Rather?” to ease us into NASCAR’s Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway.
On Saturday, the day before NASCAR returns via Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash, reigning Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch addressed the media about the potential of winning “The Great American Race” in back-to-back seasons.
And while Busch acknowledged the pressure he’s under to do so, he also spoke so highly about his 2017 victory that it posed an interesting question.
Would you rather win the Daytona 500 or the overall Cup Series championship?
“Winning Daytona, it’s like winning a championship. It’s one of the coolest things in stock car racing,” Busch said. “It’s equivalent to winning a championship. It was a tremendous win.”
As one of just a handful of drivers to have won both, Busch, 39, is qualified to speak on the issue.
But now clearly in the twilight of his career, far removed from that 2004 title, Busch’s comment is especially interesting. Maybe it’s just talk, coming from a driver who hasn’t seriously been in championship contention since 2009. Maybe it’s earnest, and the Daytona 500 really does mean that much to him.
After all, there isn’t really a comparison for the 500 in any other major sport – NASCAR is the only one with the biggest event of the year on the first weekend. You wouldn’t start the NFL season with the Super Bowl, would you?
Likely, Busch’s comment is some combination of the two. He had finished runner-up in the 500 three times before finally winning it last year, so that desire has been building for years. The purse for the Daytona 500 winner is the largest of the season, too, so that’s another incentive.
But considering how the rest of Busch’s season went in 2017 – Daytona was his only win of the year, and he was one of the first four playoff drivers eliminated – he almost has to have that opinion. If he had the car and the speed and the 2017 season that reigning Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. had, he might be singing a different tune.
As for whether Busch can repeat next weekend and win the 60th Daytona 500? The odds aren’t in his favor: Only three drivers in history have done it (Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough and Sterling Marlin), and none since Marlin in 1994 and 1995.
“I feel the pressure (to repeat),” Busch said. “I like it. I want to bring home another trophy, mainly to try to do that because it’s only been done three times, to go back to back.
“You have to respect this track, you have to respect the race itself, and you have to find new things each and every year when you come back here.”
Busch’s comments show he does have that respect for Daytona. But if he truly hopes to repeat as Daytona 500 champion – and to have a shot at winning the overall Cup Series championship in November – it’ll take much more than respect to get there.
And if the end of his 2017 campaign is any indication, Busch would be fortunate to be in a position to win either.