Kurt Busch's winning car remains on display at Daytona USA following his Daytona 500 victory in February. (AP Photo, Nigel Kinrade)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The "Earl World Tour" is over, and Kurt Busch is trying to move on from his most significant career victory.
It's not easy considering he's back at Daytona International Speedway for the first time since winning the Daytona 500 in February.
"It feels great," said Busch, who is trying to become the sixth to sweep both Cup races at the famed track in the same year. "To have a Daytona 500 win and the ring, trophy and the prestige and the value of that win. And how I won the race is something you have in your back pocket in terms of the knowledge and understanding of what took place at the end _ the draft and the move that I made. ...
"But you can't be too complacent. You have to find new things and put more tools in your toolbox to be able to have that advantage at the end of the race when it comes to mastering the draft. By no means do I think that I've mastered it. There are guys that have more tools in their toolbox to try and use, and I need to do a better job, too, to be able to have more restrictor-plate wins."
Busch returned to Daytona with a new car -- his winning Ford remains on display at the track -- and the luxury of having a win in the season opener that should get him into the 16-driver playoffs.
Busch passed Kyle Larson on the final lap on February before cruising to the victory. Larson and Chase Elliott both ran out of gas in the closing minutes. Busch prevailed in a race that saw many of NASCAR biggest stars knocked out in crashes. Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Danica Patrick, Jamie McMurray and Brad Keselowski were among those eliminated long before the checkered flag flew.
Busch celebrated with NFL star Rob Gronkowski in victory lane, and the party atmosphere remained for months.
"I would say a few weeks after that, we were slightly hungover, not necessarily literally," Busch said. "I just seemed like a fog because of the excitement, the energy. ... All of us were so excited. We're ordering rings. We're ordering flags. flags. We're taking the Harley J. Earl trophy to Ford's headquarters, to Monster's headquarters, to Haas Automation's headquarters. There was a lot going on."
Busch dubbed it the "Earl World Tour," where the Harley J. Earl trophy got passed around between team members like the NHL's Stanley Cup.
"When Earl and I went out on a boat ride on Lake Norman, it was in May, he looked at me and said, 'Hey man, I'm tired. I want to hang out with the other trophies in the trophy room,'" Busch said. "When he was hanging out with the crew guys, they didn't do a lot of things on social media with him that should have been done. Again, it's that buzz and energy with winning the Daytona 500 and having that Harley J. Earl trophy, it's very special."
Busch believes the team finally moved on and is focused on getting another win or as many bonus points as possible before the playoffs begin in September.
He also insisted he's not concerned with his future, even though Stewart-Haas Racing has an option on his contact and new series title sponsor Monster hasn't committed to sponsoring the No. 41 Ford beyond 2017.
"I don't have any worries," Busch said. "I know that I delivered for the team. Our performance level isn't one that should be in question. Winning the Daytona 500 is special. ... I don't feel any fear whatsoever. I actually feel really confident on the sponsorship that I bring."
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