Column: Busch Discussed His Odds Sunday; Harvick’s Final Daytona 500; News & Notes From Media Day
Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Kyle Busch’s star-crossed history in the DAYTONA 500 isn’t lost on the driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
As Busch approached the dais Wednesday during DAYTONA 500 Media Day, he noticed a lottery ticket next to the microphone—a leftover item from the earlier announcement of PowerBall as an official NASCAR partner.
“Better chance of winning that than the DAYTONA 500,” Busch quipped, mindful of his 20.24 average finish in the Great American Race.
Busch got his best DAYTONA 500 result in 2019, when he finished second to former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin. In 17 starts in the season-opening race, Busch has recorded just three top fives and five top 10s. Many of the remaining races have been unmitigated disasters.
Between seasons, Busch switched teams from Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota to Childress and Chevrolet, and he hopes the move will bring a change of fortune where the DAYTONA 500 is concerned.
“Here, a lot of your result can be in the hands of the other drivers around you and the circumstances around you,” Busch said. “That’s just the nature of it, but we all have the same race to go out there and run in.
“As far as being positive about it, yeah, I would be positive about it. Having a new fresh look and outlook with my new team, and being with the No. 8, it’s exciting for me anyways. So, I would love nothing more than to win the DAYTONA 500 with RCR, Chevrolet, (sponsor) 3CHI and everybody to really put an exclamation point on the offseason and what this year will hopefully bring.”
Harvick’s Final DAYTONA 500
Kevin Harvick, the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion, begins his final season of NASCAR competition with this week’s season-opening DAYTONA 500. The 47-year-old California native concedes he is balancing a naturally sentimental reaction to his retirement with his famous highly-competitive spirit.
Asked if he may show less patience racing in his farewell season, the 2007 DAYTONA 500 winner grinned and shared some advice retired driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave him.
“Dale Jr. summed it up for me by saying it was my NFG tour,” Harvick said. “If we have to settle scores, we will settle them immediately. We aren’t waiting until next week.”
Of the sentimental side of his farewell, Harvick said, “I don’t know how good I’ll be at soaking it in because I get too competitive.”
Harvick, did remind, however, that he will be sharing stories of his 30 years of racing through his 2023 helmets and various special tribute paint schemes on the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford all season. He’s already got his next “job” settled. Recently, Harvick revealed he would move from the FOX Sports broadcast booth and call races alongside Mike Joy and fellow retired driver Clint Bowyer.
“For me, it is going to be a balance between taking all of that in and not being grumpy because you are in the competitive mindset,” he said. “I explain that to people all the time. There is a difference between a meet-and-greet at the car or one away from the race track. They are two different people. We have put a lot of things in place to just try to make it simple. As simple as possible.
“But I also understand that it is important. I feel like your last year is important.”
In 43 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Daytona, Harvick has 16 top-10 and 11 top-five finishes with wins in the 2007 DAYTONA 500 and 2010 summer 400-miler. He’s finished top five in two of the last Daytona 500s.
NASCAR’s Next Gen car is foreign territory for Jimmie Johnson
How can a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and two-time DAYTONA 500 winner make a rookie mistake?
Jimmie Johnson already has—on the simulator.
Johnson left NASCAR racing after the 2020 season and spent two years driving IndyCars. In his part-time return the Cup Series and his attempt to qualify for the 2023 DAYTONA 500, Johnson, as part owner of newly-branded Legacy Motor Club, will be driving a car almost as foreign to his stock car history as the IndyCar was.
Johnson got his first experience in NASCAR’s Next Gen car during a recent test at Phoenix, a one-mile track far different from 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, both in terms of configuration and speed. He spent additional time on a simulator to gain familiarity with the race car NASCAR introduced last year.
“The sim session that I had getting ready for here—although it’s kind of silly to do sim for Daytona running by yourself—I did notice the track was really rough,” Johnson said before time trials on Thursday night. “That was not the case my last time here…
“Then I’ve been advised many times that I need to remember that it’s a sequential (gear) box, and fourth gear is actually back here (behind third)—it’s not forward. I think some guys made that mistake last year and downshifted and blew engines.
“So, just trying to stay disciplined on that. I think the last thing I’ve got to be aware of and remember—there’s five gears, not four. On the simulator, I made that mistake and ran around in fourth gear for one of my qualifying laps.”
Johnson is one of six drivers who either have to qualify on time or race into the field in one of Thursday night’s Duel 150-mile qualifying races. The last time he faced that sort of situation was during his rookie year in 2002—and he won the pole.
“I’m sitting here with seven championships and 83 wins—yes, absolutely it would suck to not make the race,” Johnson said. “But the pressure I had on myself in 2002… life would have seemed like it ended if I didn’t make the race…
“We qualified on the pole in ’02. I don’t think that’s in the cards for us (Wednesday night), but who knows? Maybe lightning will strike twice.”