DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 1, 2008) - Entering Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch is still looking for his first Daytona win and his initial career restrictor-plate victory. But...
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (July 1, 2008) - Entering Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, Miller Lite Dodge driver Kurt Busch is still looking for his first Daytona win and his initial career restrictor-plate victory. But after finishing second on three occasions, including his highly-publicized runner-up finish to Penske Racing teammate Ryan Newman in the season-opening Daytona 500 this year, Busch thinks a win could come this weekend.
"Maybe this is my time at Daytona," said Busch, who found his way back to Victory Lane last Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in a race won by strategy. "I've always believed that if you put yourself in a position to win long enough, you're bound to win one sooner or later.
"We've certainly played the bridesmaid's role for our fair share of times," said Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion who possesses a remarkable career record in restrictor-plate racing despite not yet having a win. "Sooner or later, you have to be the bride. We finished third at Daytona last July and second there in February. We returned to the winner's circle last Sunday at New Hampshire. Maybe there's some kind of karma involved. We're heading in the right direction to finally win, especially if you consider the numbers."
Busch finished as runner-up to 2003 Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip and he finished second to 2005 Daytona 500 winner Jeff Gordon, but neither performance got near the attention of his feat back in February of this year.
"The fact that it was two teammates working so closely together on the final lap and finishing first and second was newsworthy enough," said Busch. "But the fact that it was Roger's (Penske, team owner) first victory in stock car racing's biggest race in the world sent the significance factor into orbit."
While Newman was victorious in February and able to bring home Penske Racing's first Daytona win and the team's first-ever restrictor-plate victory, Busch's story there was every bit as compelling.
Due to electrical problems in his Thursday 150-mile qualifying race, Busch was forced to use his "champion's provisional" and start dead last (43rd) on the grid.
He overcame a glut of obstacles en route to his runner-up finish. Fighting an ill-handling Miller Lite Dodge for the majority of the 200-lap, 500-mile battle, Busch bounced back from a speeding penalty and a serious overheating condition to push teammate Newman on the final lap to give car owner Roger Penske's first win in "The Great American Race."
"We started last and came back from all kinds of problems," said Busch. "Just to persevere and be up there in a position to win was pretty amazing. I honestly thought we had a shot at winning the race. But, you know, having that mindset all day of just plugging away, working our way up, and if this thing ends and we're 10th or better, that's a victory from a mental standpoint. That's what was really motivating us back in February.
"It was a great run for our Miller Lite Dodge and a very historical day for Roger and Penske Racing," said Busch. "It was an emotional occasion for all of us, that's for sure. I was certainly proud to play a role in it all."
Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 will be Busch's 31st career restrictor-plate race and no driver yet to win has better numbers.
Last year, Busch trailed only Jeff Gordon in picking up the most points in the four plate races. He led almost twice as many laps as Gordon (147 to 81), yet Gordon scored two wins. In the four plate races during the 2007 season, Busch scored two top-five finishes and three top-10s. After finishing runner-up to teammate Newman in the season-opening Daytona 500 this year, Busch's overall restrictor-plate record sports 13 top-five finishes and 18 top-10s in 30 races. At Daytona, his record to date shows seven top-five finishes in 15 starts.
"Without a doubt, Kurt is the best-ever restrictor-plate racer yet to win one of these things," crew chief Pat Tryson said. "I don't think there's anybody in the garage that would argue about that. Given an equal playing field, I'd put him up against anybody out there. Even if you come in with a slight disadvantage, Kurt is so good in these races that his talent can make up for a lot of what might be lacking elsewhere."