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Kyle Busch Targets Elusive Daytona 500 Win while Keeping Eye on New NASCAR Era

There isn’t much left for Kyle Busch to conquer except for one glaring omission from his spectacular list of racing accomplishments.

Busch has claimed most of the major prizes in NASCAR, including back-to-back sweeps of both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2015 and 2016 and winning the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series championship after suffering severe leg injuries in a crash at Daytona International Speedway in February of that year.

Busch is closing in on 200 combined NASCAR victories, including Monster Energy Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Trucks.

He has 194 combined victories, including 51 in NASCAR’s premier division, the Cup Series. But there is one race victory missing from that list.

Busch has never won the Daytona 500.

He has just two top-fives in 13 previous Daytona 500 starts – his best a third-place finish in 2016.

At 33, Busch hasn’t even thought of slowing down because there remains much left for him to accomplish. That includes a victory in the 61st Daytona 500 on Sunday.

“There’s plenty on there, for sure, but the biggest one, the top item is the Daytona 500,” Busch said. “I would certainly like to knock that off a lot sooner than later, but hopefully – eventually, whether it’s the last year I do it, I can get one, but that’ll be seen later on.”

Busch has some ground to make up at the start of the race Sunday. He was involved in an on-track incident with Jimmie Johnson in the Gander RV Duel qualifying race Thursday night that damaged his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota. He finished the race but will start deep in the field in the 31st position.

With the current rules package that will be used at Daytona, and the advent of stage racing that began two years ago, starting position isn’t as important as it used to be. Busch also is fully capable of racing his way toward the front of the scheduled 500-mile distance.

This will be the final race where NASCAR will use restrictor plates. Tapered spacers will be used to restrict air flow into engines, beginning with next week’s contest at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“Tapered spaces are still restrictor plates,” Busch said. “I certainly wish that we didn’t have to deal with those things, but I do understand where back in the 1970s and the 80s they were at 500, 600 horsepower – 700 maybe. Now we’re pushing 900, 950, and so I understand kind of that we go too fast, but how fast it too fast? I don’t know. 

“It’s all about throttle response and crispness of the engine and what we’ve already known and what we’ve become accustomed to, and now we’re kind of taking a step back and going back in time a little bit. I say all that because you’ve got tapered spacers on trucks and Xfinity cars and Cup cars. They’re all kind of that way. We’re reducing horsepower across the board to slow some of these things down, but the mechanical grip and the aero grip of these things are so great that some of these tracks that we go to, you’re wide open. You’re able to just cruise around there by yourself and then when you get into traffic, you’ve got the draft which is going to play a role, and there’s some interesting variables that are going to come out with this new package.”

The 2019 Daytona 500 marks the end of the “restrictor plate era.” What will follow in next week’s race at Atlanta is an era that will dramatically restrict horsepower combined with high downforce from a tall rear spoiler to create pack racing on the 1.5-mile ovals that make up much of the schedule.

That will dramatically change the style of racing, Busch said.

“Somebody posted a video of an IROC race earlier this week on Twitter, and I don’t think it’s going to be as great as that IROC race was, but you’ll see restarts like that for about five laps and then you ‘ll start to see some separation,” Busch said. “Obviously, what we’re all looking for is not the six-second separation in between first and second, which was just too big – too great of a distance to create any sort of excitement. 

“If you can see somebody in front of you within three or four lengths, then there may be an opportunity to get that guy eventually somehow, some way. We’ll just have to see how all of that transpires.”

But with one more restrictor plate race left, Busch hopes to contend for that elusive Daytona 500 victory.

“How many cars have a legitimate shot to win the race? I would say probably four or five, but then once it gets past the cars like the fast guys, I think there’s 16, 17 guys that probably have a legitimate shot of being able to get it done barring different circumstances – pit road issues, crashes, things like that,” Busch said.

It would also bring him closer to another item on his list that he wants to accomplish, although a 200th victory in three different series will never compare to Richard Petty’s 200 wins in NASCAR’s top division.

“Absolutely not because his number is obviously Cup wins, and mine has not,” Busch said. “I feel as though I’m chasing Jeff Gordon or maybe even David Pearson. Maybe – I don’t know if I can get there. I like to think I can get there. I’m at 51 right now, so if I can get another 50 in the next 10 years, that would certainly be nice to go out with 100 Cup wins. Nobody will ever touch 200.

“Two-hundred is another item that is on that bucket list and that checklist of what we’re looking to do,” Busch said. “I hope that that comes this year. I think there’s a great opportunity for that. I’ve got five truck races slated, seven Xfinity races slated and of course a full Cup schedule, so a lot going on in all of that and looking forward to being able to produce results and wins and again compete for a championship.”

If Busch wins the Daytona 500 on Sunday, he will earn his way in to another NASCAR Playoffs position. The cutoff race for the NASCAR Playoffs comes in the annual Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line on Sept. 8 at IMS.

In addition to winning back-to-back Brickyards in 2015 and 2016, Busch has started on the pole for the past three Brickyards, although his most recent was the result of a rained-out qualification session. NASCAR determined the starting lineup based on points.

Visit IMS.com to buy tickets or for more information for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard Powered by Florida Georgia Line.

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