Skip to main content

For NASCAR Cup Series veterans Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, the outcome of Sunday’s Daytona 500 felt almost inevitable. The disappointment virtually unavoidable. The pain and heartache all too eerily familiar.  

Both in the mix to claim their long-awaited first victory in The Great American Race, Busch and Keselowski saw their hopes and dreams come crashing down, literally and figuratively, in a last-lap multi-car wreck in Turn 2 that collected nine cars, froze the field, and handed the win to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — a driver who hadn’t been to Victory Lane since 2017 and entered the day with two wins in 364 Cup Series starts. 

This was, in all probability, the most crushing Daytona 500 defeat yet for Busch and Keselowski, both former Cup Series champions who’ve sniffed victory in NASCAR’s biggest race on multiple occasions, only to always come up short.

Late-race cautions, NASCAR’s ‘overtime’ rules doomed Kyle Busch’s bid for Daytona 500 win

No matter how you slice it, Kyle Busch endured a rough Daytona Speedweeks.

Out front in the second of Thursday night’s two qualifying races, the two-time Cup Series champion was well-positioned for a win and a third-place starting spot on the Daytona 500 grid when a bump from Daniel Suarez sent his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet hard into the outside wall.

Done for the night, Busch would need to go to a backup car for Sunday’s main event and consequently start at the rear of the 40-car Daytona 500 field. But in typical fashion for a driver who has long carried the “Rowdy” moniker, he found his way to the front and spent six laps atop the leaderboard.

He and new teammate Austin Dillon were running 1-2, with Busch on top, and seemed content to finish that way until a Suarez solo spin with two laps to go triggered a caution that pushed the race into overtime and set up what most everyone hoped would be just a single two-lap dash for Daytona 500 glory.

But as happens so often at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, the Cup Series’ lone superspeedways, multiple attempts were made at a green-white-checkered finish.

Busch and Dillon tried to stay together at the front of the pack, with the latter glued to the bumper of the former on the first green-white-checkered attempt, but Busch was later left to fend for himself when Dillon ended up getting swept away in a 13-car accident in Turn 3 on Lap 204.

Was Busch confident in his chances when he led the field to the green for the first green-white-checkered attempt?

“I don’t think you’re ever confident,” he told reporters after the race. “Who won? I don’t even know who lucked into it.”

Told that the winner was Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Busch smirked and replied: “There you have it.”

On the second and final green-white-checkered attempt, Busch almost escaped the carnage but got drilled in the left-rear quarter panel at the last moment by AJ Allmendinger while chasing the frontrunning duo of Stenhouse and Joey Logano, who were side by side for the lead when the caution flag ended the race 12 laps past its scheduled distance.

“The accordion (effect) happens, and everybody gets to running over everybody,” said Busch, whose 17 previous Daytona 500 starts came with either Joe Gibbs Racing or Hendrick Motorsports.

NASCAR scored Busch with a 19th-place finish in his first Daytona 500 with Richard Childress Racing

“It’s just par for the course,” Busch told reporters. “I’m just used to it. I 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 (infield) care center.”

Busch remains one of five former Cup Series champions — among active drivers — still without a Daytona 500 triumph on his resume. Factoring in Daytona’s August Cup Series event, four of Busch’s last six starts at The World Center of Racing have ended in a wreck.

“I just tried to keep it straight as much as I can and wait for when it’s going to happen, and eventually it does, and it did again today,” he said in postrace comments made available by Team Chevy PR. “So, I tried, and I don’t know what else to do. Come up short.”

Busch lamented the fact that he led Lap 200 — the scheduled final lap of the race — but didn’t walk away with the trophy because of NASCAR’s rules that allow up to three attempts at a green-white-checkered finish if someone brings out a caution that would make the race finish under yellow. Many years ago, there was no such thing as NASCAR overtime or green-white-checkered finishes, and NASCAR would let a race finish under caution at its regularly scheduled distance.

“I think this was the first time I led Lap 200, so I wish it was 1998 rules,” Busch said.

‘Bad luck’ costs Brad Keselowski another opportunity to claim an elusive Daytona 500 victory

For the second year in a row, Brad Keselowski led the most laps in the Daytona 500. And for the second year in a row, he didn’t leave Daytona with the Harley J. Earl winner’s trophy in tow, making the 2012 Cup Series champion a gut-wrenching 0-of-14 in attempts to win The Great American Race.

However, unlike last year’s Daytona 500, when Keselowski led 67 of 201 laps and finished ninth with a No. 6 Ford that was still mostly intact, the driver/co-owner for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing finished with a DNF and a torn-up car that was damaged badly in an accident on the final lap.

Before getting shuffled back into the sea of cars jockeying for position on the two attempts at a green-white-checkered finish, Keselowski had spent a race-high 42 laps out front and was leading the race — with teammate Chris Buescher just behind — when Kyle Busch powered his way into the top spot with help from teammate Austin Dillon on Lap 197 of the scheduled 200.

Keselowski never led again and was ultimately gobbled up in the final-lap fracas, finishing 22nd although he never made it back around to the checkered flag after his involvement in the Lap 212 melee.

As with Busch, the result was an awfully tough pill for Keselowski to swallow, as it marked just the latest chapter in a book of Daytona 500 disappointments.

Keselowski’s wife, Paige, shared a similar sentiment after watching her husband come so close to finally winning NASCAR’s crown-jewel event.

“Leaving again with a broken heart,” she tweeted. “Hate it sooooo bad for him.”

Related Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., and Others Describe the Intense Closing Laps of the Daytona 500 and What They’re Thinking to Avoid ‘The Big One’

Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., and Others Describe the Intense Closing Laps of the Daytona 500 and What They’re Thinking to Avoid ‘The Big One’