Daytona 500 proves elusive for many, even some series champs

Feb 16, 2023, 1:00 PM | Updated: Feb 17, 2023, 4:46 am
Kyle Busch, center, stands on pit road with his crew chief Randall Burnett, left, and car owner Ric...

Kyle Busch, center, stands on pit road with his crew chief Randall Burnett, left, and car owner Richard Childress during qualifying for the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

(AP Photo/John Raoux)

              NASCAR Cup Series driver Aric Almirola (10) participates in a qualifying round ahead of a NASCAR exhibition auto race at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
            
              Kyle Larson stands by his car on pit road after qualifying for the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
            
              Aric Almirola watches the leader board as he stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
            
              Ricky Stenhouse Jr. walks from one interview station to another during NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race media day at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
            
              Brad Keselowski kneels next to his car after his qualifying run for the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
            
              Kyle Larson climbs out of his car after finishing second during qualifying for the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
            
              A reporter makes a video interview on his cell phone with Brad Keselowski during NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race media day at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
            
              Martin Truex Jr., left, speaks with a foreign journalist during NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race media day at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
            
              Kyle Busch, center, stands on pit road with his crew chief Randall Burnett, left, and car owner Richard Childress during qualifying for the NASCAR Daytona 500 auto race at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Kyle Busch peered at a handful of Powerball tickets left behind as part of a giveaway and was told he could have them.

“Better chances of winning that than the Daytona 500,” Busch cracked.

It’s easy to understand why Busch would feel that way. The two-time Cup Series champion is winless in 17 starts in NASCAR’s most prestigious race, a skid that’s more of a head-scratcher than a heartbreaker considering Busch has won at just about every track on the circuit.

He’s even partied in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway, only in the summer race. But the ultimate prize on NASCAR’s ultimate stage has eluded him, maybe even gnawed at him, throughout his professional career.

“It’s just not happened yet for me,” said Busch, who wrecked while leading a qualifying race Thursday night. “Some guys, this is the only race they ever win. Other guys, they win it two or three times. It’s the Super Bowl of our sport, and it’s hard to accomplish this one.”

Now driving for Richard Childress Racing in the No. 8 Chevrolet, Busch will try to change his Daytona 500 fortunes in the 65th running of “The Great American Race” on Sunday. And he has plenty of company in the 0-for-500 club, with four other drivers also having double-digit droughts in NASCAR’s season opener.

Kyle Larson, the 2021 series champ, could join the club soon. He’s current 0 for 9 in the 500.

“It’s just a difficult style of racing that I just haven’t had the best of time in my career,” Larson said. ‘I used to always say it’s bad luck, but I don’t necessarily feel that way anymore.”

Others share that sentiment:

MARTIN TRUEX JR. (0 for 18)

Truex owns NASCAR’s longest active losing streak in the 500. The 2017 series champ won each of the first two stages last year before getting caught up in a five-car crash with 50 laps to go. He also was the runner-up in the 2016 Daytona 500, edged at the finish line by 0.011 seconds by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin.

Truex doesn’t have a top-10 finish in the 500 since, but he’s feeling good after winning the exhibition Clash at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum two weeks ago.

“It was just good for confidence, good for momentum,” Truex said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team so fired up to get to the racetrack as my guys have been. I think that’s a good thing and hopefully we can just keep that momentum going.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI (0 for 13)

Keselowski has won six times at Talladega, making him one of NASCAR’s top superspeedway racers, but he’s had mostly bad luck in the Daytona 500.

The 2012 series champ had a legit shot in 2021 before then-Team Penske teammate Joey Logano blocked him on the final lap and caused a multi-car melee that allowed Michael McDowell to drive by and end up in victory lane for one of the more shocking finishes in race history.

Keselowski responded last year by winning a qualifying race and then led a race-high 67 laps in the 500 — but ultimately came up short again.

“I have six Talladega wins, which is great, but I’d like to have a Daytona 500 win to go with them,” said Keselowski, who is entering his second year as a driver/owner at RFK Racing. “I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had some good races and bad races on plate tracks — and everything in-between. I’m just really hungry to bring this one home.

“I’ve been so close the last few years. It’s been painful to walk away — not so much empty-handed — but without the trophy.”

ARIC ALMIROLA (0 for 12)

Almirola seemed content to walk away from full-time racing after his last Daytona 500, a fifth-place finish in 2022. But he delayed his pending retirement a few months later and remained at Stewart-Haas Racing for at least another year. Now, Almirola gets another shot at the 500.

“If you win Dover, you don’t become the Dover 400 champion,” said Almirola, who won a rain-shortened July race at Daytona in 2014 and picked up another victory in a qualifier Thursday. “When you win the Daytona 500, you become the Daytona 500 champion for the rest of your life.”

RICKY STENHOUSE JR. (0 for 11)

Both of Stenhouse’s career wins came at superspeedways in 2017 — at the summer race at Daytona and at Talladega. He’s been a consistent contender since, although his results have slipped since leaving Roush Fenway Racing following the 2019 season.

He was running near the front with six laps to go last year when Keselowski gave him a push that turned him sideways and eventually into the wall. He ended up 28th. His only top-10 finish in the 500 came in 2014.

“Everybody is tensed up here knowing that you have one shot to win the Daytona 500,” he said. “You look at the careers of people in our sport that accomplished a lot but never won the 500. It shows how tough it is.”

MAKING HISTORY

Hall of Famers Tony Stewart, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin are the most notable drivers who never won the race.

Truex, Busch, Keselowski, Almirola, Stenhouse and even Larson will be looking for a breakthrough Sunday. And no one should be surprised to see it happen.

After all, Hall of Famer David Pearson needed 15 tries to win the Daytona 500. Busch’s older brother Kurt needed 16. And NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt won in his 20th try — an iconic moment in series history.

“You just come in here and treat it as if it’s any other race,” Kyle Busch said. “There is great opportunity to be able to win the race, and if you put yourself in the right spot, you can.”

___

AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

Ex-Packer Guion gets 1 year for domestic violence assault

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Former Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Letroy Guion was sentenced to one year in jail after pleading no contest in a domestic violence assault at his home last fall. Brown County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Walsh also ordered Guion on Tuesday to serve three years’ probation and complete a domestic […]
22 days ago
Joe Jarzynka...
Associated Press

Durant eager for Suns debut vs. Hornets after knee injury

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Kevin Durant has been through quite a bit during his 15-year NBA career — but joining a new team midway through the season is a new one for the 13-time All-Star. The 34-year-old Durant doesn’t seem all that worried. Durant makes his highly anticipated Phoenix Suns debut on Wednesday night against […]
22 days ago
FILE - Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores stands on the sideline during the second half of an N...
Associated Press

Judge: NFL coach can press discrimination claims in court

NEW YORK (AP) — NFL Coach Brian Flores can pursue some of his discrimination claims against the league and its teams in court rather than through arbitration, a judge ruled Wednesday. The written decision by Judge Valerie Caproni in Manhattan was issued months after lawyers for the league tried to get the lawsuit moved to […]
22 days ago
Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Alex Stalock cools off in the first period during an NHL hockey game ...
Associated Press

Kane trade reinforces hard reality of Blackhawks rebuild

CHICAGO (AP) — After days of speculation, the harsh reality of the Chicago Blackhawks’ situation was reinforced by one move in a flurry of transactions ahead of the NHL trade deadline. Showtime is over, at least in Chicago, and a seemingly bright future is, well, way off in the distance. The reverberations of Chicago’s decision […]
22 days ago
FILE -  Yves Jean-Bart, president of the Haitian Football Federation, wearing a protective face mas...
Associated Press

Disgraced ex-Haitian soccer president announces he’s back

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Haiti’s former soccer federation president whose lifetime ban from sport over sexual abuse allegations was overturned last month announced Wednesday that he is reclaiming his position. Yves Jean-Bart’s defiant announcement could lead to a standoff with FIFA, which already has appointed an emergency management committee to lead the Haitian Football Association […]
22 days ago
FILE - Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after an NFL football game against the ...
Associated Press

Rodgers says decision on future will come ‘soon enough’

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers says he will make a decision on his future “soon enough” as the four-time MVP quarterback ponders whether to play next season and if his future remains with the Green Bay Packers. Rodgers, 39, discussed his future while speaking on an episode of the “Aubrey Marcus Podcast” that […]
22 days ago
Daytona 500 proves elusive for many, even some series champs