Kyle Busch made it known before the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season he had one empty slot in his trophy case to fill: the Daytona 500.
In Sunday’s (Feb. 17) Great American Race, Busch was among the best cars throughout the duration of the event. After starting 31st, the No. 18 shot to the front winning the first stage. Due to pit strategy, he finished 12th in the second stage. But in a final, wild half of the event, Busch was in grasps of his first Daytona 500 triumph.
With four cautions in the final 20 laps, Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin worked together to remain first and second throughout. However, what turned out to be the final restart of the race, Hamlin wanted to restart on the top with Busch on the bottom, allowing the No. 11 to edge out front, giving JGR the best shot at the victory.
Over the final two laps, a run never materialized and Busch had to settle for a runner-up finish, bettering his best finish in the Great American Race by one position.
“Just trying to work on a run on the [No.] 11, and you can never trust those behind you,” Busch said. “They scattered, went around me and I had to work my way back up there. It wasn’t meant to be today. It’s frustrating, for sure. I thought we had a great car. It’s nice to see a teammate win. It’s very, very bittersweet obviously, but I guess we’ll come back and try again.”
As far as working with Hamlin on the final restart, Busch wanted to make sure one of the JGR Toyotas ended up in the Winner’s Circle, still believing he had a shot at the win.
“We made a deal with the [No.] 11 to let him down so in doing that it was strength in numbers trying to keep us all together,” Busch said. “There’s not enough cars out there for anything to materialize, there’s six cars out there. I probably knew better but took that chance to make sure one of us one.
“I was trying to get a push from the [No.] 22 and he just scattered and went around me. There was no help from behind. I pretty much knew that, every man for themselves anyways. I tried to make something happen and nothing came about.”
Busch has led 282 career laps in the Daytona 500 without going to Victory Lane. That’s second on the all-time laps led in the Great American Race without picking up a checkered flag, only behind former JGR driver Tony Stewart.
Though it was a tough one to swallow, Busch felt this was his best opportunity to date to win the sports biggest race.
“This was probably the best shot to win,” he said. “Being up front that much at the end of the race, having the track position and being in those positions on the restarts. That one restart that Denny wanted to race, I took the bottom because I felt like having the [No.] 14 behind me and the [No.] 14 was pretty fast. We tried to work together as much as we could.”
Busch heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway next weekend sitting third in the championship standings, seven points behind Hamlin and Joey Logano.