Exclusive: Kyle Busch says failure to win Daytona 500 ‘definitely weighs on you’
Kyle Busch knows all about it taking the late Dale Earnhardt 20 years to win the Daytona 500, or about Darrell Waltrip, another NASCAR Hall of Famer, needing 17 tries.
He’s well aware that Tony Stewart, his former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, retired as a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver at the end of last season without ever having won the Great American Race.
So he doesn’t really need reminded that his own winless streak in the 500 has now reached 11 heading into Sunday’s latest 500 live on FOX at 2 p.m. ET.
“In nine more years, I’ll be at 20. I hope it doesn’t go that far,” Busch told FOX Sports in an exclusive interview on Friday.
Busch finished a career-best third in last year’s 500, although he also knows no one really remembers the first car to finish behind winner Denny Hamlin and runner-up Martin Truex Jr. in the closest finish ever in the storied race. He also finished second at Daytona last July, and won that race in 2008, so he knows he can get it done at the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
It just hasn’t happened for him yet in NASCAR’s biggest race.
“It definitely weighs on you a little bit, you know?” Busch admitted. “Sometimes you’re fast and you feel like you should win in those years. And then you kind of lose your speed in other years, and you know you don’t have a chance to win.
“It’s still anybody’s race. Every single competitor comes down here with a chance to win. There are 40 of us who feel as though we can legitimately win this race this weekend. That’s always going to make it a tough go of trying to make sure you’re one of the guys that does win. Every other racetrack we go to, we know it’s 12 or 15 guys who have a shot to win. Here, it’s 40 – so that makes your chances go down a lot more.”
Perhaps helping increase his chances this year is the fact that Joe Gibbs Racing has developed a reputation for having all four of its Cup cars work well together at Daytona. Opposing drivers have been talking about it for weeks.
“I believe that’s true,” Busch said. “I believe that’s one of our best attributes that we have as a team. We all have the common goal of having one of us take home the checkered flag. For all of us to work as well as we do together, that’s a really good point of emphasis every year when we come down here.
“I don’t need to make that known. I think everybody else has figured that out. But we also know that somebody’s going to try to figure out how to break us apart and prevent us from working together.”
Busch thought that happened to some degree in his Thursday Can-Am Duel, when he ran up front at first but eventually fell back and got rear-ended by Jamie McMcMurray, relegating him to a poor finish.
“I feel like last night’s Duel was one of those situations. We just could never really get teamed up, the three of us. It was me, (Daniel) Suarez and Matt (Kenseth), and we also had (fellow Toyota driver) Martin (Truex Jr.) in there (in the first Duel race),” Busch said.
“We were never really able to get to the front and work together the way we needed to. The other teams, they’re out there and they’re looking for that and they’re trying to keep us away from each other.”
He expects more of the same treatment from the opposition in Sunday’s 500.
Meanwhile, asked if he often thinks of the many great drivers before him like Earnhardt, Waltrip and Stewart who also struggled to claim NASCAR’s biggest prize in otherwise stellar careers, Busch smiled and replied: “Yeah, I do. I do think of that. I would like to never get to that point.
“I didn’t know if I would ever win a championship, but I did that (in 2015) and got that out of the way. You always want more. If I could ever win another championship, I’d be like, ‘That’s two. Now let’s go get three.’ And you’d keep counting.
“But as for the Daytona 500, obviously you’ve got to get No. 1 before you can get two. It would be nice to win one and get that monkey off our back, if you will, and open up the opportunity to win more down the road.”