Kyle Busch Is Still Seeking That Last NASCAR Grail, The Daytona 500

Kyle Busch has done just about everything there is to do in NASCAR. He’s won at every level, holding the most wins in history in both the Gander Truck Series and Xfinity Series. He’s won two Cup Series Championships, the Brickyard 400, Southern 500, All-Star Race, and Coke 600. He was the first driver to win all three races — Truck, Xfinity, Cup — in the same weekend, and is the first Cup driver to win at every track on the schedule.

But there is one race that has eluded him: The crown jewel of the NASCAR season, the Daytona 500, which will take place this year on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox. Busch has been close before. A year ago he led late before his car blew up and he’s finished second, third, and fourth once each in his career. He’s won at Daytona in the summer race (and even this year’s Busch Clash on the road course), just not the 500. And so, he enters this weekend not only looking to bounce back from a rare down season with just one win in 2020, but to pick up the final big one that his trophy case at home is waiting for.

We got a chance to talk with Busch, who will start in 10th after his finish in Thursday night’s Duels, about what makes the 500 so difficult, coming into the year with a new crew chief, how JGR will look to bounce back from a tough 2020, and what he’s learned as the owner of his own race team in the truck series.

How are you feeling coming into Daytona week and getting this season started?

Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. I’m ready to go. We’ve certainly had our fair share of downtime here, and it’s been quite hectic and busy, but at the same time, it’s nice to have the season back here again, for us to get going again, and get back out on the racetrack.

Last season obviously didn’t go as you wanted to, but does that give you a little extra motivation to come out and try to say, like, “Okay, we’re back, we’re gonna be in that contender status again this year,” and get off to a strong start?

I mean, sure. I’ve had one win seasons before, and fortunately, I’ve been able to come back out and, and have four, five, seven, eight win seasons after those. So, you know, there is a way in being able to turn that around and get yourself to the next level or back into contention, I guess, if you will. So certainly, I’d like to think that we can do that and we’re ready for that. I’ve got a whole new group of guys, though. So, you know, that’s going to take a little bit of getting used to and building some chemistry and stuff like that for these first few weeks, and hopefully being able to go out there and have that success sooner rather than later.

Yeah, I was gonna ask, you’re working with a new crew chief in Ben Beshore. What are the conversations that y’all have had coming into the season to try and get on the same page and understand what both of y’all are gonna be trying to do, especially in these early weeks, as you’re still kind of learning each other as a crew chief and a driver?

I think the biggest thing was just kind of learning and talking and understanding, like, what wasn’t successful last year, and what we need to turn around and remake successful this year. So there was some things that we did that were, mmm, call it not so great, and some other things that we did last year that were pretty good. So learning from all of those and continuing to evolve and make yourself better is what this sport’s all about. I feel like we kind of had a few ideas and concepts late last year that we kind of had to change around with our entire organization. And now we’ve got to put that into this year and put it into good use in order to have that success come back. Cause we were — you know, they look at me as, “Well, you didn’t win a lot. You only won once last year.” Well, Martin Truex Jr. only won once as well, too, right. And then, you know, Erik Jones didn’t win at all. So Denny was kind of the one that was carrying the banner for JGR. And so we’ve got to make sure that we can all do that this year, and get us back to a good winning season.

Is there anything specifically you can point to that you say like, okay, we really need to turn this around and say, this was kind of where we fell short. Like, is there anything specifically you can point to or is that stuff that you keep in the shop?

Yeah, no, it’s definitely stuff you keep in the shop. But in layman’s terms, I guess you just say we need to be faster [laughs]. You know, there were times that we were at the racetrack, and the cars drove good, and we were just slow. So having faster cars that can go around the racetrack much faster than what we were doing is certainly going to be important.

That usually helps.

Yeah [laughs].

With regards to Daytona, the 500 is the one big one that you haven’t haven’t been able to reel in and what is your approach going into it and kind of what are the things that you’ve learned over your years at this track — and I know some of that’s just luck with avoiding the big one — but what have you learned about this track to help you try to be up there where you have a shot at the end?

Yeah, I mean, I don’t — it’s just the the nature of the race, if you will. I don’t necessarily think it’s the track or anything like that. It’s the nature of the race. Restrictor plate racing is obviously a chess game throughout, and you’ve got to have a fast car, but you’ve also got to be smart and do a good job with it. I feel like Denny has been one of the best guys, he’s my teammate, obviously, that that’s been able to do that more regularly. And he’s just really found knack of that with this current car and this current car, we’ve been in since 2015 I think it was or something like that has, has really lended itself to his style and whatever for restrictor plate racing.

But this is the last year with this car, we move on in the next year with a new car, so it’d be nice to still be able to score victory no matter what car it is and get a win in that race. But when it comes down to the end, man, you’re never safe until the checkered flag flies. Cause I’ve seen guys on the last lap be leading the race and just get turned by the guy behind them and crashed out you know. So you’ve always got to be on your toes.

Yeah, when you get all bunched up and you have that that bunch style and it, like you said with each car, it’s kind of changed. Sometimes you have the the the two car thing and then sometimes it’s just a lane and a lane. What are the things that you have to change about your mentality when you come to these restrictor plate tracks?

Um, I don’t know. I mean, I think that you’ve got to be aggressive, but you’ve got to be smart in how aggressive you are and what time of the race that you are. So obviously, everybody wants to lead. If you get out front and you get the lead, you want to protect that lead. So there’s just a lot of different variables that kind of come into play. And last year, we were in the catbird seat, you know, we were leading the thing coming down towards the end, I think it was 16 or 15 laps ago or something. And we ended up blowing up, you know. So I feel like we we did the right things. And we were in the right position. It just obviously wasn’t meant to be.

You mentioned the the downtime you’ve had. How have you been been spending this offseason and kind of kind of just resetting away from the track and kind of how has the offseason gone? Is there anything you’ve been able to do just to unwind before you gear up for the season?

Uh, yeah, there hasn’t been an unwind [laughs]. It’s been hectic, it’s been crazy. We’ve gone through a whole bunch of stuff with Kyle Busch Motorsports, with a lot of people leavin’ and tryin’ to fill holes and find new people and get everything kind of back organized and straightened up over there. I feel like we’ve we’ve gotten somewhere in a better place, and hopefully we’re heading in the right direction to have success with our truck series teams. That was a big, big part of the offseason. Another part also was just trying to continue to build the brand Rowdy Energy and and get an energy drink to continue to have success and get out into some more stores and some more places for consumers to be able to buy and to be on more shelves. And so it’s been an ongoing process here for the last year with that, but it’s growing and we’re moving. It’s, I don’t know, it’s just there’s a lot going on every single day. It’s hard to say how easy or how difficult some days are. It’s just whatever comes at you next you go with.

With Kyle Busch Motorsports, what have you learned over your time as an owner of a team that maybe has given you a different perspective as a driver on the track? Like, do you just have to have two different mindsets? Or are there things you found that overlap in learning different perspectives on the sport from that ownership box.

No, there’s definitely a lot of different perspectives that you learn. You have to know and learn and understand the people and the personalities of people and putting people in the right places to succeed. And sometimes you don’t always have the right people in the right places, but also you’ve got to be able to balance payroll and stuff like that. It’s like an NFL team, you know, you kind of have a salary cap because you know how much money you’re bringing in and how much money you have available to spend. So you can’t just keep giving everybody raises all the time and max out or go overboard on your payroll and then have to cut out some of your other resources for building good trucks and having fast equipment and nice equipment, and stuff like that. So it’s always a balancing act, you know, you’re never out of the trenches.