NASCAR: Daytona deals Busch another tough finish
By Mark Long
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. ó Kyle Busch climbed out his car window, pulled off his gloves and helmet in disgust and started walking back toward the finish line.
A safety crew coaxed him into a pickup truck and drove him to the infield care center ó the same place he ended his last Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway.
“I think he’s got a little bit of a headache, but hopefully he’s going to be OK,” car owner Joe Gibbs said.
Busch might have a stomachache, too, if he thinks about his two Cup races at Daytona this season.
With his No. 18 Toyota out front and the checkered flag in sight Saturday night, Busch looked like he might snatch a win from Tony Stewart in the Coke Zero 400.
Instead, Busch ended up in the wall, out of contention and with another trip to the care center. Stewart, meanwhile, won his second race in five weeks and extended his lead in the series standings. Jimmie Johnson was second, followed by Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch.
Kyle Busch finished 14th, sliding across the finish line backward in a mangled car.
“It’s a big disappointment,” crew chief Steve Addington said. “We sat there, was patient all night long. We were just fine. … We were in position to go for the win and we end up wrecked. What are you going to say?”
Busch said nothing.
He spent a few minutes inside the care center, blew off reporters and then bolted toward his motorhome on a golf cart.
“It’s a tough place to race,” Gibbs said.
Busch has learned that the hard way this season.
He led a race-high 88 laps in February’s season-opening Daytona 500 and was certain he had a good enough car to make it to Victory Lane. Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended any chance he had of getting there.
Earnhardt triggered a massive wreck with 75 laps remaining, and Busch was right in the middle of the mess and ended up 41st.
His return to Daytona might have been even more frustrating.
A few hours after needing intravenous fluids following a 70-minute stint in stifling heat while making his Grand-Am Series debut, Busch was in his Cup car and running in the lead pack. He started eighth, worked his way up to second in the first 40 laps and then spent most of the 160-lap event waiting to make his move.
He did it shortly after a restart with four laps to go, hooking up with teammate Hamlin and sneaking by Stewart for the lead. All Busch had to do from there was hold off Stewart for 21/2 miles on the superspeedway.
Easier said than done, especially with those horsepower-sapping carburetor plates. They slow speeds at NASCAR’s fastest tracks and cause cars to run in tight packs, where one small wiggle can trigger a multicar accident.
Stewart got some help from Johnson, chased down Busch and started calculating his next move. Stewart inched toward Busch’s bumper, getting close enough to send Busch drifting up the track.
Busch turned back left to maintain his lead, then tried to slide in front of Stewart to block him. It was one move too many. As Busch crossed in front of Stewart’s bumper, the cars made enough contact to turn Busch around and send him veering out of control.
His car lifted off the ground as it slammed into the wall. Kasey Kahne, Jeff Burton, Robby Gordon and AJ Allmendinger also got caught up in the wreck.
It was the latest wild finish at a restrictor-plate race. Remember Talladega in April? Edwards sure does. That’s where his car went airborne into the fence in a similar last-lap crash.
Busch’s brush wasn’t nearly as harrowing, but it left Stewart in a much less celebratory mood than his first win as a driver/owner at Stewart-Haas Racing.
“Even if it’s 100 percent his fault, I still won’t feel good about it,” Stewart said. “I think racers hold the integrity of the sport in mind, and it was a good race. The outcome may go your way, but it doesn’t mean that you have to like how it happened.”
Busch surely didn’t.
It continued his string of poor finishes. He’s been outside the top 10 five times in the last six races and 10 times in the last 13 events ó well below the 24-year-old’s lofty expectations that came following his eight wins last year.
And Daytona has been pretty much a disaster for him.
“That’s part of this,” Addington said. “This is a product of restrictor-plate racing with these cars. What are you going to say? Everybody on this race team worked their tails off and we had a good race car. I can’t say anything. I’m not pointing any fingers at Tony. He was trying to win the race, Kyle was trying to block him.”