Kyle Busch finds runner-up finish in Daytona 500 ‘bittersweet’

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In his 14th attempt to conquer it, Kyle Busch had “probably the best chance” to win the Daytona 500.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver did earn his best finish in the event, but he was one spot shy of sending his No. 18 Toyota to victory lane.

Busch placed second in the middle of a Joe Gibbs Racing sandwich led by Denny Hamlin and completed by Erik Jones.

It is the first 1-2-3 finish for JGR since it began competing in Cup in 1992.

Busch’s previous best finish in the 500 was third in 2016.

The moment was made more “bittersweet” for Busch with it being the first race since the passing of J.D. Gibbs, the son of Joe Gibbs and co-founder of JGR.

“I’d have much rather have been the one to win the race and be in victory lane and celebrating with my team and with everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing and being a part of the J.D. celebration,” Busch said. “But overall, you know, you couldn’t be more thrilled for all the 500 people back at Joe Gibbs Racing that knew and respected and obviously looked up to J.D. for the person that he was and for the relationships that he gave all of us.”

Entering the only attempt at an overtime finish, Busch restarted second to Hamlin on the inside lane. Busch had agreed to let Hamlin in front of him at the drop of the green flag.

“It’s first and foremost to try to make sure that we at least get a JGR car to victory lane,” Busch said of the decision. “They didn’t want to do it the previous restart, but then since (Hamlin) got the lead, he wanted to do it again.”

Over the final two laps Busch had to find a way around his teammate at the right moment while he fended off charges from Jones, Joey Logano, Ryan Preece and Michael McDowell.

The opening never came.

With Hamlin out to a healthy lead exiting Turn 4 on the last lap, Busch had to sidedraft Logano on the outside to sweep around him to second place.

A winner of 51 Cup races, Busch will wait until his 15th Daytona 500 to get another shot at the “Great American Race.”

The race’s final run capped off a stretch where Hamlin and Busch led the final 38 laps.

“There at the end I think it was just track position, how we came off pit road,” Busch said. “The 11 and the 18 kind of kept the front of the field at bay for the rest of the day after … 30 to go.

“I think it was pretty evenly matched as the day went on, and we kind of saw that some of the Toyotas and ‑‑ I don’t know if it was just coincidence or what, but some of the Chevys were kind of working, and the speed was there in those situations to keep up with the Fords.”

Busch led four times for 47 of the race’s 207 laps and won the first stage of the race. He held the point position from Laps 191 – 198, which coincided with two of the three major wrecks in the final 20 laps.

“Brains come unglued. That’s all it is,” Busch said. “The brain connection from right up here to the gas pedal foot doesn’t quite work the same anymore. … I think I’ve been caught up in plenty of those.  It was nice to be in front of all of that tonight.”