Even though it was the scene of the worst wreck of his career, that has not dulled Kyle Busch’s love affair with Daytona International Speedway.
Busch missed nearly the first third of the Cup season after suffering a broken right leg and broken left foot on Feb. 21, 2015 while competing in the Xfinity Series season-opening race there.
Even so, the 2.5-mile superspeedway remains one of Busch’s favorite tracks. He’s coming off his best career Daytona 500 finish (second), and also has one win (2008) three other runner-up finishes (2006, 2007 and 2016) and a fifth-place showing in 15 starts in the annual summer Coke Zero Sugar 400 there.
“You’ve got to be good, but there’s still a lot of luck involved,” Busch said in a media release. “You’ve got to be out front. When your cars are fast, you need to do a good job, you know how to lead it, get yourself through traffic, you’ll be out front a lot of the time.
“(Brad Keselowski) is very hard to pass, he’s very fast. When those guys are out front, they seem to be able to control the race. Last year – I think it was a Duel, maybe the Clash at Daytona – Denny (Hamlin) … was leading, trying to hold Brad off, and they ended up crashing. So hard to hold those fast cars back, if you will. They do a good job of being able to predict the lines and how they build the inertia and everything behind them.”
While the Daytona 500 is typically run during the day and under much cooler conditions in February, summer’s shorter Coke Zero Sugar 400 under the lights is in some ways even more difficult to win.
“For us, you still want to win everywhere you go, every single week,” Busch said. “To win at Daytona is always cool. It’s definitely special. It’s the birthplace of NASCAR – the superspeedway aspect of it. I definitely love going there.
“It’s hot, it’s slick and you can make the most out of yourself as a driver and what you’ve got in the car. We won there in 2008 and I’m hoping we can get a win with our Interstate Batteries Camry this weekend. We came so close to my first Daytona 500 win in February, so I would really like to finish the deal this weekend and get to victory lane – that’s always the goal.”
Busch has made 28 starts at Daytona in a Cup car, with the majority of his success coming in the 400. For whatever reason, the summer race always seems to bring out a better side of him – although it can be a bit toasty at times.
“It’s going to be a hot one,” Busch predicted (wunderground.com is calling for a high of 88 degrees and a 50% chance Saturday afternoon, just a few hours before the green flag drops for Saturday night’s race. “Right now, it’s all about getting your fluids back in you throughout the entire week.
“You’re not going to get them all back in one or two nights. It’s going to take the entirety of a week. You’ll start over again after that race. It’s Daytona. A lot of different planning goes into that.”
Saturday night’s race marks the first time that Cup drivers will pilot cars without restrictor plates since 1988. Plates have been replaced by tapered spacers. But Busch is convinced the racing will still be similar to plate competition – and with the usual suspects who seem to do well there, as well as the almost obligatory “big one” (or more than one in the same race).
“I don’t ever really think about when something is going to happen,” Busch said. “That’s a spur of the moment thing, it just does happen. As far as being able to make your way, make your maneuvers and things like that, Brad and Denny are probably two of the best at being able to do that.
“I try to watch a little bit what they do and how they do it. I’m just not very good at emulating that. They have a really good sense of what’s going on behind them, how they can make the lines kind of build up that inertia, that pressure, it kind of shoots them forward. The only thing I see behind me is a car. I can’t really see what’s going on three, four deep. Any time I try to back it up and stall it in order to get that inertia or get that run going, somebody just pulls out and wants to pass me.”
While he doesn’t dwell on what happened to him in 2015 at Daytona, he hasn’t forgotten about it and appreciates the changes Daytona and other tracks have made to make things safer for drivers.
“I think, of course, the things Daytona has done with the SAFER Barrier along the whole outside and inside of the racetrack,” he said. “There are too many different areas on these racing surfaces where we can get out of control and crash into things.
“We’ve seen that over the years – I think most notably maybe Mark Martin at Michigan several years ago, getting caught on that inside pit wall. We tend to find about anywhere to hit, so it’s just a matter of trying to protect ourselves, as well as the race fans and our crew members, as best as possible.”