While most drivers would be pleased with a third-place finish at Daytona International Speedway, that was not the case for Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kurt Busch after Sunday’s rain-shortened Coke Zero 400.
Looking for his first points-paying restrictor-plate win, Busch was on the inside of the front row for the final restart of the day. Unable to grab the lead, Busch was forced to settle with a third-place finish when NASCAR called the race due to rain just four laps later, giving the win to Richard Petty Motorsports driver Aric Almirola.
"It’s a tough pill to swallow," Busch said. "We want to go back out there and race. There is still plenty of daylight left. There are lights at this track. I’m disappointed because we want to go for the win. But at the same time, this team has turned a good corner. It’s been about five weeks in a row now we’ve been in the top 15 and we cashed in on a top-five finish today. So that’s the good news.
"The bad news is that the No. 43 (Aric Almirola) won," he added. "That makes him Chase eligible. That might bump us back a spot. That’s the big picture; but also the big picture is us. We’re running better with the No. 41 car. So, I’m happy to drive a patriotic paint scheme to a top-five finish and give a shout out to the men and women who serve."
Busch understands NASCAR faces a tough decision when ending a race early, but had hoped the sanctioning body would wait a little longer before making the call.
"It seems early to call a race," he said shortly after the race was called early Sunday afternoon. "It is Sunday already, and the majority of our fans that showed up were going to use this day to travel back home. On average how far are the fans here locally traveling to get back home? Is it four hours? Maybe we could have run later on today and still finished and everybody could have back home and to work on Monday.
"You know, the network TV side of it versus the safety of the fans, as well, with thunder and lightning in the area, it’s a tough call to make."
When looking at the overall race, Busch faulted himself for not having better restarts.
"I didn’t do my job to be the leader," he said. "We didn’t quite have a couple solid restarts at the end to be the leader for when the race was going to get called."
As he mentioned, the No. 41 team has turned the corner. After a string of six races where the team finished 23rd or worse, Busch and his Daniel Knost-led team have rebounded to finish inside the top 15 — including two top-fives — in the last five races.
"There’s some times when a driver and a crew chief hit it off and they’re off to the races right away," Busch said. "Daniel and I have been slower to mature together in our relationship, and so we’re 18 races into our first date. Now we’re going into the second half of the season, and all of our first dates are done. We’ll go to New Hampshire next week, and that’ll be the last new track that we see together, and then from there on out, all the tracks that we’ve been to we have notes and we have test sessions planned, and that’s where we have to make the 41 team stronger."
Thanks to his win at Martinsville earlier in the year, Busch is still qualified for the 16-driver Chase field, but sits 24th in the overall standings.
After the race, NASCAR said they would take Busch’s No. 41 Chevrolet back to the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, N.C., to further evaluate the track bar on the car that was split. Any announcement of their findings and possible penalties will not be announced until early in the week.