DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – At 34 years old, Kyle Busch has already created a Hall of Fame career that includes two NASCAR Cup championships, 56 Cup Series wins, 96 Xfinity Series victories and 56 Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series victories.
He has many years left behind the wheel of a race car and has even strongly hinted his desire at competing in the Indianapolis 500.
But there is one thing missing from Busch’s incredible career. He has never won the Daytona 500.
The driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota gets another chance in Sunday’s 62nd Daytona 500. Busch starts in the 28th position alongside Ryan Blaney and just ahead of Clint Bowyer and David Ragan. But in NASCAR’s wild, high-banked, tapered spacer brand of racing that is often determined by being part of a draft party, it doesn’t really matter where a driver starts in the Daytona 500.
Busch’s Daytona 500 winless record is not the major storyline entering Sunday’s race, but it remains a storyline, nonetheless. Sunday’s race will be his 15th Daytona 500 start.
“It’s fine,” Busch said when asked about it during media day on Wednesday. “It’s attention to the sport, which is good for all of us. You know, me not being able to win the Daytona 500 isn’t something that’s going to kill me, but it’s certainly going to weigh on me in the late goings of a race to try to get out there and win this thing. We were so close last year.
“There were just a couple different instances that ‑ different circumstances could have made a whole different day, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion this year. But you know, it is what it is. We’ll go out there this year and see if we can’t give it the same shot, we gave it last year.”
There have been many great drivers who went deep into their careers without winning the Daytona 500. It took Darrell Waltrip 17 tries to win the Daytona 500 and the late Dale Earnhardt 20 attempts before he crossed it off his list.
There have been many greats who never won the Daytona 500. Drivers such as Tony Stewart, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace to name a few.
“There are a lot of greats that haven’t, but I would definitely not want to be on that list if I had my way,” Busch said. “You don’t always have your way, especially in restrictor plate racing with just how random it is. Years ago, I would say probably…man, ’85, ’87 maybe or earlier, it was way more skill, car, equipment, driver, that sort of stuff, but with the restrictor plate stuff, it’s been way more random and unexpected.”
Whether Busch ever wins a Daytona 500, he will always be one of NASCAR’s all-time greats. With Busch’s attitude however, it really doesn’t make a difference to him.
He wants to win it; but he’s not going to obsess over it if he doesn’t.
“It’s not life or death, but it would certainly be nice,” Busch said. “There’s opportunities out there that all things considered, and all the stars align, yeah, you can make it there. You’d better set your goals high, as I’ve always kind of looked at it, and try and go out there and achieve them and not be totally disappointed or let down if you’re not able to achieve those goals, but obviously you want to be able to go out there ‑‑ if you set it at one championship or two championships, well, hell, I’m already done, so why am I still here?
“We keep changing that and moving those targets a little bit. I had the 200‑win target years ago. I think it came up at Richmond with Kerry Tharp (president of Darlington Raceway) years ago, and we’ve now kind of pushed that number up. So obviously just continuing to go out there and succeed and doing well and pushing hard and trying to get the most out of myself and my equipment and my team and everybody.”
In many ways, Busch has become the face of NASCAR. As seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson is set to retire from full-time racing at the end of 2020, this is Busch’s time to be the driver that is the face of the series.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I live my life just the same as you live yours, and mine is just a little different perceived than yours probably. It’s all fine.
“Just a matter of being able to go out there and do my job and whatever it takes to do my job is what I focus on, and a lot of who I’m known for and what I’m known for is obviously racetrack related, results related, competition related. Away from the racetrack, those around me could say that, yeah, I still have that fire and that desire in some of my other outside businesses. I’m a fierce competitor but also a little demanding in the things that I expect my people to do.
“I guess that’s just a part of my nature and the way I was brought up.”
Whether Busch takes over as the face of NASCAR remains to be determined.
What is determined, at least in his mind, is who is the best driver in NASCAR?
“You’re looking at him,” he said.
Spoken like a true legend.