Kyle Busch. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo)

Can Busch Mimic Earnhardt’s 1998 Daytona 500 Triumph?

Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch has one outstanding box left to check in his career — a Daytona 500 victory.

If for no other reason, the Harley J. Earl Trophy is the one item that his brother and 2017 Daytona 500 winner, Kurt Busch, can hold over the younger Busch sibling.

“I would love to be able to get that,” Kyle Busch said. “Been oh-so-close a few times and still continue to work on being able to get that done. Last year, I led mile-marker 500 — it was just under yellow.”

He finished fourth in 2008, third in 2016 and runner-up in 2019 at the 2.5-mile speedway, but has yet to claim the ultimate prize in the Great American Race.

Kyle Busch makes laps at the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo)

In recent years, Busch’s best result at NASCAR’s season opener was sixth in 2022 with Joe Gibbs Racing, one year prior to his colossal switch over to Richard Childress Racing.

He recently noted on social media that this year will mark his 20th attempt to win the Daytona 500 — a record that mimics the history of a former RCR driver.

After 19 agonizing years of failing to get it done, the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. won the 1998 Daytona 500 while wheeling the signature black-and-red No. 3 Chevrolet for RCR.

Busch is hoping to repeat Earnhardt’s pattern this year as he commences his second season driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress.  

“That’s the last box to check, essentially, in my career for the great things to do and accomplish in our sport,” Busch said. “Would love to be able to have that trophy back home.”

Though he can’t deny his lack of a Daytona 500 victory certainly weighs on him, Busch also recognizes that it’s not everything. 

“It’s our biggest race, it’s our biggest stage. But it’s just that though — it’s one race,” Busch said. “I feel like the championship is the pinnacle of our sport.”

He explained further, “Being able to score that win in a restrictor-plate-style race where there’s 30 other guys that are vying for the win and have a legit shot for the win…You go to other places and sometimes the drivers aren’t very good at those tracks or sometimes their cars, their teams or the manufacturers or whatever, they don’t really lineup well for those tracks.

Kyle Busch debriefs with his Richard Childress Racing crew. (HHP/Harold Hinson photo)

“So I feel like the restrictor-plate stuff though is pretty level for everybody.”

Busch is far more concerned with maintaining performance throughout the second half of the Cup Series season, which is where he struggled last year.

While he started off his debut year with RCR well, Busch’s third and final win of the season came at race 15 of 36 at World Wide Technology Raceway. From that point on, it was an uphill battle for the No. 8 team, which exited the playoffs during the Round of 12.

“We had some good races in the second half of the year, I just did not capitalize very well on those. Had some issues myself, and then also just some other issues. Slow pit stops would sometimes knock us back, and then I would try too hard to get to the front and spin out or whatever. So just a lot of things — it’s not just one single area,” Busch said.

He’s confident in the work he and crew chief Randall Burnett have done over the offseason to change a few internal procedures and is anxious to put them to the test on Feb. 18 at Daytona Int’l Speedway.

A good omen appeared last weekend when Busch finished runner-up in the non-points Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum.