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Tony Gibson: A flip of the switch helped Kurt Busch to Daytona 500

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Kurt Busch, right, talks with his crew chief Tony Gibson, left, in his garage during a practice session for the Daytona 500. AP photo Kurt Busch, right, talks with his crew chief Tony Gibson, left, in his garage during a practice session for the Daytona 500. AP photo

(NBC Sports) - NASCAR race teams keep a lot of things in reserve on race weekends, just in case they need something.

Things like extra engine parts, body panels, back-up cars and the like.

Even fuel – which was one of the keys to Kurt Busch’s win in Sunday’s Daytona 500: he had a little bit left in reserve in his tank.

Winning crew chief Tony Gibson was on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s The Morning Drive on Monday, reiterating what he said Sunday that Busch was about a half-lap short of fuel to finish the “Great American Race.”

But Busch had a bit in reserve in his tank: having made his last pit stop for fuel with 51 laps left in the scheduled 200-lap race, a reserve fuel pump gave him just enough of a secondary boost to make it to the checkered flag first.

“All the mileage, we figured it every different way, but we were definitely a half-a-lap short, for sure,” Gibson said. “But we knew we had the reserve switch (for the back-up fuel pump) he could hit and I could make a lap with that, so we kind of planned everything around that lap with 51 to go to where we could make it on fuel.

“The other guys were like a lap-and-a-half or two laps less on fuel than we could make it. As the race unfolded and started changing, we had to adjust our strategy too, but it ended up working out pretty good.”

Several drivers ran out of fuel on the final two laps including Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon.

But not Busch. Gibson had planned ahead.

“We have another tank inside the tank, a little bladder that holds a half-gallon of fuel,” Gibson said. “You can run two pumps in your fuel cell, so we choose to run one in this reserve box and then one in the main bladder cell. We know exactly, when we turn that switch on, we know at each racetrack how far we can make it.

“It gives the driver a little bit of security that if it starts running out, he can switch it and know how he has this many laps to get to pit road for fuel or to make it to the end. I just reminded Kurt with like 10 (laps) to go or something that if we get down to one to go, to flip your switch.

“When he got to Turn 4 coming to get the white (flag), go ahead flip it and I knew we could make it the rest of the way. And then some other guys started running out of fuel and so I hesitated, almost told him to turn it on earlier, but I’ve got to wait. As long as his pressure doesn’t drop and he can get it to (Turn) four, it’ll pick up pretty quick and then I’ve got it made from there, so it worked out.”

Winning the Daytona 500 is every driver and crew chief’s dream. But Sunday’s win was a rarity, an even greater accomplishment than usual, as Gibson was born and raised in the Daytona Beach area.

In other words, the hometown boy did good – real good.

“Every time I come in the gate, is this the weekend you’re going to win?” Gibson told TMD. “It gets to the next level because you dream as a kid that you want to be a crew chief in this business. I’ve been able to achieve a lot of goals and championships and races, but I’ll have to say this is the biggest one.”

But after less than 90 minutes of sleep Sunday night, it’s back to work for Gibson and the rest of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team as they prepare for this weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“The Daytona 500 is a race everybody wants to win, but in this sport, you’re only as good as your last win or last performance,” Gibson told TMD. “We’ve got to step up.

“We know there’s going to be some bumps in the road switching over manufacturers and not all days are going to be like yesterday, so we have to be prepared for that and keep our guard up and try to do our best to keep those speed bumps as soft as we can.”

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