Column: Busch Watches Daytona 500 Glory Slip Away Again; Pastrana’s Wild Day & More
Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Kyle Busch was leading Sunday’s DAYTONA 500 with two laps remaining, looking poised to at long last celebrate with the sport’s most celebrated trophy.
This was Busch’s points-paying debut driving the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet after a 15-year run and double-championship effort with the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team. And after 17 previous DAYTONA 500s without a trophy to hoist, Busch was hopeful. And fast.
Unfortunately, he was not lucky.
As Busch’s Chevrolet held a strong lead in front of the field, Trackhouse Racing driver Daniel Suarez spun off track and brought out a caution flag. The field bunched back up – Busch’s lead evaporating. He joked with his RCR crew, “back in 1998 that would have been the win, boys,” noting that decades ago the race would have ended under that caution and Busch would have been declared the winner as the leader at the time of caution.
Now NASCAR has overtime restarts in an effort to not end races under caution. So, on the first overtime try, Busch and his RCR teammate Austin Dillon lined up alongside one another on the front row ready to try again for DAYTONA 500 glory by mastering a two-lap run to the checkered flag. However, a huge multi-car accident in Turn 3 on Lap 1 of the restart changed that plan again and ended up resulting in extra laps and a second overtime that collected Busch’s car in a nine-car incident on the final lap – the race official.
“It looked like it was kind of working, but we got too much separation off [Turn] 2 and I tried to back-up to get to them and when they hit me it got me really squirrely and then Austin [Dillon] checked up and the accordion happens and everybody gets running over everybody else,” Busch explained after a mandatory visit to Daytona’s infield care center.
“I think this is the first time I lead Lap 200, so I wish it was 1998 rules,” Busch said. “But, no, it’s just par for the course, just used to it and come down here every year to just find out when and where I’m going to crash and what lap I come out of the care center.
“I don’t think you’re ever confident.”
Busch now falls to 0-for-18 in NASCAR’s prized season-opener, despite leading the third most laps (362) of any active competitor. He finished runner-up in 2019 and third place in 2016. Busch was 19th on Sunday and led six laps.
Pastrana’s DAYTONA 500 debut was a wild one
Travis Pastrana’s DAYTONA 500 adventure ended in a smile, if not a trophy. The renowned X Games gold medalist and beloved action racing star led two laps and ultimately finished 11th in his DAYTONA 500 debut. And he’ll take it.
Pastrana’s night ended at the Daytona International Speedway Infield Care Center after his No. 67 23XI Racing Toyota was collected in a huge multi-car crash triggered by someone else on the last lap. But he emerged proud of his NASCAR Cup Series debut and grateful for the opportunity.
“I was really excited to be up in the hunt for a potential top five coming to the checkered,” Pastrana said, pausing to acknowledge a group of fans shouting congratulations and giving fist pumps to the popular competitor.
“Honestly just to be in the hunt for a top five at the end exceeded all my expectations,” he continued. “Obviously, it’s disappointment now because you want to do the best you can, and I was trying not to crash. Just unfortunately when things got tight in there, I wasn’t able to control at the top with a push.”
Leading Laps 39-40, however, certainly provided a huge moment for Pastrana.
“I led a lap, but it was by mistake,” he said smiling. “I was like “I should come in,’ they said, ‘stay out,’ and I was like I’m already out.’ So led a lap in the DAYTONA 500, finished top-20 and the car isn’t a complete write-off so the kid’s college fund should be intact.
“It was a win. It was awesome.”
Pastrana said he did not plan to race again in the NASCAR Cup Series, but said he was open to competing in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series should the right opportunity come. The DAYTONA 500 was a “fantastic” experience for the 39-year-old Pastrana and appears to have provided exactly what he pursued.
“We’ve been winning championships on the dirt, and I just wanted to experience the whole DAYTONA 500 Speedweeks,” Pastrana said, grinning.
Harvick’s Final DAYTONA 500
Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick will be credited with a 12th-place finish in his final DAYTONA 500 start. The driver of the No. 4 Ford was among those collected in a seven-car accident with 17 laps remaining, but the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series champion soldiered on and finished the race.
Harvick, 47, who announced he would be retiring from competition at the end of the 2023 season, has had a strong career showing in NASCAR’s premier race. He won the 2007 DAYTONA 500, finished runner-up in 2009 and 2015, has nine top-five finishes and led 284 laps in his 22 career starts.
Jimmie Johnson’s Welcome Back
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson made his first NASCAR Cup Series start in three seasons in Sunday’s DAYTONA 500 – driving for the Legacy Motor Club which he now holds major ownership stake in.
After joining fellow NASCAR stars that have both won a NASCAR Cup Series championship and previous DAYTONA 500 in giving Sunday’s starting command for this 75th Anniversary season, Johnson rolled off the grid 39th in the No. 84 Chevrolet.
A two-time DAYTONA 500 winner, Johnson knows how to run this race and sure enough had worked his way all the way into the top 10 in the closing laps before a pair of overtime restarts. He was ultimately collected in a 13-car accident after the first OT green flag, however, and ended up 31st in the final standings.
Johnson will also compete in a handful of other NASCAR Cup Series races in 2023, although he’s only confirmed this summer’s inaugural Chicago Street Race so far. And certainly, Sunday’s effort at Daytona excited fans and invigorated the champ.
“All in all, just a great day,” Johnson said. “I hate that we didn’t get to the finish line, but we got a lot closer than I thought. If I would have taken a bet before the race started, I would have thought some issues [would happen] earlier than that, but we had a great day.
“The Carvana car was awesome. Very, very proud of this race team. Unfortunately, we didn’t get the finish line.”
Noah Gragson, driver of the No. 42 Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet, finished 24th – the highest finishing rookie. … There were 204 Green Flag Passes for the Lead – most all-time in a race at Daytona International Speedway – easily eclipsing the previous record mark of 177 set in 2014 DAYTONA 500. …There were 21 different race leaders – tying the 2010 mark for second most all-time. …The 52 lead changes were fourth all-time; and most since 2011 (74).