Six of 43 cars made it unscathed to the finish line of the Nationwide Series opener at Daytona International Speedway.
James Buescher was not driving one of those clean cars.
Still, he managed to dodge and weave his way through an 11-car accident on the final lap of Saturday’s race, stealing the victory and setting the stage for what is expected to be a wild Daytona 500.
Buescher joined unknown John King, winner of Friday night’s Truck Series opener, as surprise winners this weekend at Daytona. Both came from nowhere to win crash-marred races. Elliott Sadler, runner-up to Buescher on Saturday, said today’s race will be much of the same.
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“It’s the Daytona 500. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime race to be involved in and try to win, and I think guys are going to go for it when it’s showtime,” Sadler said. “I think guys will be patient the first part of the race, test their cars, just like you saw today. When it gets time to go, crazy things happen.”
Buescher was in 11th place as he rounded the final turn and made his way through a massive pack of spinning race cars.
“They all piled up in front of me, and we made it through,” Buescher said. “It’s hard to describe the feeling when you make it through the wreck and you’re the only guy. You don’t see anybody in front of you coming to the checkered flag. It’s pretty incredible.”
Danica Patrick started from the pole but was wrecked 49 laps into the race when JR Motorsports teammate Cole Whitt ran into the back of her while bump-drafting. Her car spun into the wall and back down the track. Although she returned the damaged Chevy to the track, she finished 38th in the first race of what will be her first full season in Nationwide.
Brad Keselowski, who finished second, said NASCAR is in a difficult position of giving fans what they want in restrictor-plate racing and making it a safe event.
“I feel like we walk a line in this sport between daredevils and chess players,” he said.
Danny Efland, a 23-year-old Irmo resident and USC alumnus, finished 13th after starting 41st.