When it comes to statistically analyzing the Daytona 500, Kurt Busch’s record stands out.
The Furniture Row Racing driver has finished runner-up three times in the 500, the crown jewel in the 36-race Sprint Cup schedule. In 2003 he was second to Michael Waltrip, in 2005 it was Jeff Gordon who edged out Busch, and in 2008, it was an unselfish Busch pushing his teammate Ryan Newman to victory.
“It’s like anything else, nobody really remembers who finishes second,” said Busch, a 24-time Cup winner. “Racing is about winning and we’re going into Sunday’s Daytona 500 knowing that we have just as good a shot as any team out there. Our No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet SS has been fast in the draft. We just didn’t have much luck in the opening weekend at Daytona.”
Not having much luck with the Sprint Unlimited car last weekend is an understatement. It took fewer than 10 minutes in the first official practice of the season for Busch to get collected in an accident, forcing him to a backup car in Saturday night’s Sprint Unlimited race.
Busch’s luck only got worse in the Sprint Unlimited event. He was once again collected in an accident on Lap 15 of 75, causing an early exit from the race with a damaged car.
“The accidents weren’t caused by our performances -- we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” recalled Busch, the 2004 NASCAR champion. “All I know is that when we were 100 percent in stride we had a fast race car, very capable of having a strong Daytona 500 performance.”
There is no doubt that Busch knows how to maneuver around the famed 2.5-mile Daytona oval. His Daytona 500 record includes 12 starts, five top-fives, six top 10s and 173 laps led. Combining the Daytona summer race, his overall Daytona record in 24 starts includes: 10 top-fives, 12 top-10s and 239 laps led.
And according to NASCAR’s statistical bureau, Busch’s driver rating of 89.7 at Daytona ranks fourth best among active drivers.
Busch’s resume also includes a NASCAR Nationwide Series victory at Daytona, winning last July’s event for Phoenix Racing, the same team he will drive for in Saturday’s Nationwide race.
“Daytona is special, a spectacle with high energy level,” noted Busch. “There are two main reasons you want to come out of Daytona with a positive result. First, it’s the Daytona 500 our premier race, and secondly, it’s the opening race of the season and you want to kick everything off with a strong effort and finish.”
One member of the Furniture Row team who knows what it’s like to visit Daytona 500 Victory Lane is Busch’s crew chief Todd Berrier, who was the crew chief for Kevin Harvick when he won the 2007 Daytona 500, edging Mark Martin in the closest 500 finish in history at 0.020 seconds.
“Many teams can win this race, but you need to stay clean and be in the lead draft in the closing laps,” explained Berrier. “So many things can happen in a hurry, you just need to be ready to make your move at the right time, and have luck on your side. Much easier said than done.”
Before Sunday’s Daytona 500, Busch will take his primary 500 car into the first Budweiser Duel qualifying race Thursday where he will start on the inside of Row 9.