Back to News

February 23, 2024

Inside the latest chapter of Kyle Busch’s pursuit to win the Daytona 500

Kyle Busch stands with his family on the frontstretch before the 2024 Daytona 500.
Zach Sturniolo

Kyle Busch has been chasing the Daytona 500 since 2005. The man with more than 200 NASCAR national series wins and two NASCAR Cup Series championships has just one thing missing from his personal trophy case – the Harley J. Earl Trophy.

This year was Busch’s 19th attempt in the “Great American Race” to try and get it.

The No. 8 Richard Childress Racing team gave access to shadow the program at Daytona International Speedway, starting with Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacations Duels through the checkered flag of the Daytona 500.

Follow along for a behind-the-scenes look at the team’s weekend in the 66th annual running of the Daytona 500.


After starting Duel 2 fourth, Busch was involved in a significant crash on Lap 47 that ended his night in the qualifying race for the Daytona 500

Ryan Blaney, driver of the No. 12 Menards/PEAK Ford, in flames after an on-track incident with Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 8 Zone Chevrolet, and Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 6 Castrol Edge Ford, during the NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations Duel No. 2 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 15, 2024 in Daytona Beach, Florida.
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

POST-WRECK: The No. 8 Chevrolet is towed to the far corner of the auxiliary garage. Most of the splitter is torn away, while scuffs decorate the vinyl wrap of the blue and green Camaro down the right side.

Within five minutes, the crew gets the car on jack stands, opens the hood and begins inspecting the rear deck lid with crew chief Randall Burnett. Car chief Clay Alexander struggles to rip the right-rear wheel off the car. Burnett and a NASCAR official inspect the inner wheel well of the right rear.

Officials reserve the right to decide whether a team fixes its primary car or swaps to a backup. The team’s backup car is already wrapped with the appropriate paint scheme, saving the team hours of additional work.

There’s also a sense of déjà vu: Busch crashed in the 2023 duel and used a backup car for the Daytona 500. He led at Lap 200 — the race’s scheduled conclusion — but the race went to overtime, where Busch was involved in a race-ending wreck.

At 9:52 p.m., Andy Petree, Richard Childress Racing’s vice president of competition, appears at the side of the No. 8 car. He finds Burnett and the two discuss the situation as the crew continues to assess the primary car while prepping parts for the backup.

“It’s just distressing,” Petree says. “We wrecked a lot last year — way too much. Kind of demoralizing to start off the whole thing here wrecking again. It’s just like last year. But I mean we rebounded very well and put ourselves in position to win the 500, just to get wrecked again. But we’re gonna keep fighting. This team’s got a lot of fight left. But it’s just a kick in the gut to have it happen again.”

Petree has been associated with elite superspeedway cars for the last 24 years, dating back to his days as a team owner with Andy Petree Racing and its then-alliance with RCR and Dale Earnhardt Inc. That RCR is a contender at every superspeedway is intentional.

“We do it on purpose,” Petree says. “This is the biggest race of our season so it means a lot to be good here and so we put a lot of emphasis on it. We put a lot of focus on it. I would say some years, maybe we put too much focus on it. You have the most time to prepare for the Daytona 500. You’ve got all offseason. You put all hands on deck. It’s just one of those priorities that Richard had and RCR had over the years.”

By 11:17 p.m., an enormous amount of work has been done. A new engine and all driveline parts are installed on the approved backup car as the crew works diligently. Had it gone unused, this car was previously slated as the team’s primary car for Atlanta. Heads are down, focused on the tasks at hand. The fabric protective cover is laid over the primary car at 11:18, and two minutes later, the backup is covered, ready to rest until tomorrow.


The team resumes work when the garage opens at 9 a.m., with both primary and backup cars facing nose-to-nose as they were the night before. Roughly two hours into their work, the group is bumping old-school hip-hop classics on their speakers: Eric B & Rakim, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and The Fugees, to name a few.

At 1:31 p.m., finishing touches are being put on the backup car, hammering sides of spoiler ever so slightly to get it into the optimal alignment. Engine tuner Matt Lombardi ensures the belt tensions are correct and no fluids are leaking. Burnett says everything has gone as planned this morning. “The team knows the drill.”

Half an hour later, the backup sparks to life, its new Earnhardt-Childress Racing motor ignited. Lombardi is overseeing the engine, tuning as the power supply comes up to temperature. He goes to the car’s rear and works in the trunk with Alexander, and after wrenching in the right-rear portion of the trunk, Lombardi lowers the deck lid with an approving nod and heads back to the engine.

By 2:15 p.m., the car is ready for technical inspection. There is not an obligation to run through tech before Friday’s practice session, but going through now can confirm the car is up to par. Within 15 minutes, the car is back in the garage stall.

“I wouldn’t say clean and green,” Burnett says after the first go, “but not bad.”

Two hours pass before they go through tech a second time. What transpired in between involved walking through every detail again and adjusting based off what they saw in inspection the first time through. Alexander, the car chief, says going through twice Friday might save a step Saturday. This time, through, all is good and they’re ready for practice at 5:35 p.m.

Busch heads onto the track to make laps by himself to make sure there’s “nothing funny” with the car, Burnett says, and then plans to draft with other Chevrolets.

By 5:40, after completing a few solo laps, Busch is back in the garage. “Let’s go over everything, make sure everything’s good, then join the Hendrick guys and draft,” Burnett radios. But there’s some confusion. The Hendrick cars are still at speed. Spotter Derek Kneeland asks whether the No. 8 is supposed to join, or if they’re supposed to meet on pit road.

“I don’t know. We’re supposed to meet on pit road from 5:45-5:50,” Burnett says. Kneeland speaks to the Hendrick spotters and says they hadn’t been told anything.

There were three other groups on track at that time. The new goal? Blend with one of them. It’s 5:52 p.m. and Busch is the lead car in a draft of seven, with RCR teammate Austin Dillon, JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Hendrick drivers Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Alex Bowman.

Over the next 12 minutes, Busch alternates positions in line — middle, trailing, leading. Burnett would like to see a couple more laps, but ultimately feels this is a good spot to get a read on the car’s balance. Busch reports the car drives fine, but a tight condition off Turn 4 is the biggest issue.

Kyle Busch and crew chief Randall Burnett chat in the garage area at Daytona.
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

The session ends shortly thereafter, and the No. 8 Chevrolet returns to the garage. There, the team assesses what they learned during the 50-minute session, analyzes the adjustments they made and ultimately prepares to shut down for the evening.

“Yeah, it’s been a little chaotic,” Burnett says after the session. “Obviously, it’s less than ideal to get your primary car tore up. Fortunately, we had experience going through that last year, so we kind of knew what to expect. So, the guys did a really good job of getting the car together. The guys at the shop did a really good job of making sure the backup car was prepped really well. And so when we unloaded it, it was in really good shape. So that helped a ton.”

Busch’s feedback from the Duel helped inform Burnett’s direction on the backup car: The car started tight and built loose over a run, giving Burnett and engineers Nate Troupe and Andrew Dickeson something to ponder.

“I don’t know that we got it 100% of what he wanted, but I think we got the right direction,” Burnett said. “I think we’ll make a few more changes for Sunday for the 500 to try to help him with that.”

After practice, interior specialist Richard Parks explained this week’s workload was a “little bit worse than usual” because the backup didn’t have all the driver cooling components that were in the primary. But overall, with the help of Joe Mchone as an additional hand this week, “it really wasn’t too bad for us,” Parks said.

“Kyle’s pretty easy with all this stuff,” he added. “He’s not too hard to please, believe it or not. So yeah, it went pretty well for as far as the interior stuff goes.”

Standing in the hauler after snacking on Fritos dipped in Stan’s Pimento Cheese Spread, Burnett is pleased with what he sees at the end of the night.

“Now we can kind of fine-tune and fluff and buff on the car some and get it really right and work on some setup stuff that we wanted to try and go from there,” Burnett said.

As the group prepares to close shop for the night, the overriding sentiment now is optimism.

“We’re very positive. We feel like we’ve got a really good shot,” Parks said. “This is our backup car — not our best car or our best motor. … But we still feel like we got a really good shot at this thing, especially with Kyle driving the car.”


10:25 a.m.: Cup Series final practice is canceled because of inclement weather, which didn’t change any of the No. 8 team’s plans anyway. The group remains hard at work preparing the car before inspection opens at 11 a.m. So far, “fluff and buff” has referred mainly to attention near the spoiler and deck lid, though Parks and Mchone tend to the front windshield and some center braces in the cockpit.

10:40 a.m.: The atmosphere is generally more tense at this moment, with the spoiler seemingly not cooperating with their preferred angles. Burnett takes a hammer to the back of the spoiler, direct center, trying to make it adhere both to their preferences and within NASCAR’s specifications.

Clay Alexander, Scott 'Burt' Widener and Randall Burnett tend to the spoiler of the No. 8 Chevrolet.
Alejandro Alvarez |

11:57 a.m.: Over an hour later, the team is now lending some attention to the rear wheel wells and their corners nearest the doors. They’ve still yet to run through inspection and will have to warm the motor before they roll to tech. Parks estimates about another 20 minutes until then, but tensions have otherwise eased.

12:10 p.m.: Jim Campbell, vice president of GM Performance & Motorsports, makes his way to the No. 8 team’s garage as guests of Chevrolet tour the facilities. The timing is perfect as the car is rolled out of the garage and beneath an awning — the rain has steadied — as the engine roars, then purrs, then comes up to temperature. Campbell knows well the effort RCR puts into this race and cherishes the relationship with Childress. There aren’t many 50-year businesses or partnerships, he notes, but this one has lasted.

12:21 p.m.: Inspection time. The vibe is much lighter now than it was an hour ago as the team arrives to the first station. The Camaro is jacked up and placed on stands, wheels then removed and set aside. This station involves an overview of the chassis, so officials will look over the car inside and out — cockpit, wheel wells, trunk, hood, everywhere — to make sure all is compliant.

Here, Parks sparks more conversation. This year marks his 29th in the sport and 17th with RCR after stops at Bill Davis Racing and Petty Enterprises among others. He’s seen plenty of highs and lows at RCR in his tenure — and praised Tyler Reddick for getting them going in the right direction. Reddick still stops by to chat with the group as well, emphasizing the strength of those relationships. Parks also praises Alexander, the car chief, for his role in keeping this team sharp. “He’s made me a better mechanic,” Parks says.

12:41 p.m.: After 20 minutes, it’s onto the next inspection station. Former driver and now longtime official David Green inspects the cockpit, measuring the headrests and their clearances. Then it’s ahead to templates: spoilers, roof, side panels, windshields — all have a designated template that the car must fit. One official points to the left-rear deck lid and its aerodynamic shark fin before speaking with a crewman about it. There’s no significant hubbub here, but it does appear to be an area of concern.

1:04 p.m.: The car is back to the garage stall and scaled but will need to go through inspection once more. The underwing scanner showed the car was failing by thousandths of an inch. A first failure is harmless; a second could result in a crew member being ejected for the rest of the weekend.

1:50 p.m.: Back to the underwing scanner and holding their breath. “It’s just so tense because there’s so much that can go wrong,” Burnett explains. He reiterates Parks’ earlier praise of Alexander as the “unsung hero” of this team. Meanwhile, it’s time for the car to roll up the ramp and be scanned again. A minute later, it’s all smiles from mechanic Scott “Burt” Widener and Burnett.

2:05 p.m.: Back in the garage and all clear. The No. 8 car passed on its second run through tech. Now the car is jacked with only three team members allowed inside the stall at a time, overseen by one official. The crew removes the struts used for tech and installs the race shocks. This is the final step, then the car is ready for the “Great American Race.”

The relief is palpable as we step from the stall to the hauler. Burnett explains the relief of passing tech is “massive” because he doesn’t want his guys in trouble. It falls back on him as the crew chief, plus sponsors call asking why you can’t get through tech. “Just a mess.” The weight is off everyone’s shoulders now.

2:35 p.m.: The team is officially done for Saturday. No extra team meeting and everyone’s happy — ready for lunch. Today’s spread is tri-tip beef, barbecue chicken, beans and potato salad. One last “Nice job, guys,” from Burnett signals the end the day.

The No. 8 team observes the car in the garage at Daytona


9:30 a.m. — The 66th annual Daytona 500 is officially postponed to Monday at 4 p.m. ET because of rain. Teams will be able to access the haulers at 10 a.m. Monday and their cars in the garage at 11 a.m. The crew uses the free day to rest and recuperate.


10:04 a.m.: It’s race day. Team members file into the hauler shortly after the garage area opens. Burnett snacks on Pringles and a can of Diet Coke while water-cooler chats commence around the hauler. All the car needs are race tires and an engine warmup. Then it’s ready for the grid.

10:25 a.m.: Kneeland makes his way to the hauler. After the Duel races, he and Busch spent an hour reviewing film and discussing takeaways from their qualifying race. Examining the wreck, Kneeland says it was a racing incident, the result of lost momentum from cars in front without much place to go.

We chat about his role, experiences and the significance of getting Busch to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500. “There is no secret everybody’s talking about that this week,” he said. That undertone has persisted through the race weekend. Today could be the day.

10:40 a.m.: A sense of gratitude is evident through the hauler. There are tired bodies but not worn-out spirits. Parks makes it a point to emphasize: “We get to work on this team. We don’t have to. We get to.”

Alexander, the car chief, has a similar reflection. He was a mechanic on the No. 3 Chevrolet in 2018 when Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and has the tattoo to prove it. Clay tried his hand at racing behind the wheel but realized that wouldn’t be his long-term path. So when opportunity knocked around 2012 for him to work at Phoenix Racing in North Carolina, he sold just about everything, including his truck, to move from Franklin, Tennessee, to make it happen.

“Yeah, we complain about the small details because we want everything to be perfect,” Alexander says, “but at the end of the day, I’m one of 40 people doing this at the top level.”

12:32 p.m.: Fitted with its race tires, the car is rolled into the procession, waiting for its turn to be placed on the grid. There are still three and a half hours until this race begins, but the sun is finally shining. There’s a nervous energy. Eight minutes later, the job is done: The No. 8 Chevrolet glistens in the sunshine, parked perfectly between the Chevys of Austin Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at pit entry.

3 p.m.: While the drivers’ meeting begins in the media center, the No. 8 team meets in its hauler. Outside, Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun” blares on the track’s PA system, fitting for the sunny Monday afternoon after two dismal days of rain.

Burnett leads the meeting with a succinct, “Welcome to Daytona.” He thanks the team for its hard work to get the backup car prepared after Thursday with a successful Friday practice. He cautions the team doesn’t have a great pit stall for Monday’s race — pit stall No. 20 behind Tyler Reddick and in front of Ryan Preece. That shouldn’t be an issue during green-flag stops, he adds, but something to be mindful of under caution. Burnett breaks down the stages and anticipates fuel-only stops — but be ready with tires in case Busch locks his tires coming to pit road and they need to call an audible.

“Today’s the day,” Burnett said. “Today’s the day we start our season. Let’s come out here strong. We got the best driver in the garage. That’s for sure. So, let’s do this proud and have a great day. Been fortunate enough in my career to win one of these things, and it’s something you’ll never forget.”

3:40 p.m.: Busch is introduced at the stage. Fans standing next to his car cheer loudly. Unlike past years, they are not anomalies. There is a notable pickup in cheers over jeers, a sign of changing times around Busch. Jared Reid, the tire technician, checks tire pressures at the same time, the air wheezing through the tire gauge. At 3:46 p.m., Parks is prepping the interior, getting tape stripped for Kyle to use when he straps in, safeguarding the data-collecting mouthguard Busch will utilize and more.

3:54 p.m.: Busch arrives to his machine, just minutes after his wife, Samantha, and their two children, Brexton and Lennix, arrived. They join Kurt Busch at the car, who was eagerly waiting to see his brother. Kurt knows what this race’s glory means, having won the Harley J. Earl Trophy in 2017 and speaks to Kyle separately at the left rear of the car. Perhaps today is Kyle’s day. He heads to the front of the car and takes five photos with sponsor guests — Zone, Chevrolet, RCR. Someone poses the basic-but-imperative question: “You gonna win?” “We’re gonna try,” Busch says with a laugh.

3:57 p.m.: With obligations complete, it’s family time for Busch. In his arms is 21-month-old Lennix while Brexton, 8, inspects the car. Samantha returns from a separate conversation and the four are ready for family pictures — first with backs to the tri-oval then backs toward Turn 4.

3:58 p.m.: Burnett and team owner Richard Childress have a brief conversation, jovially interrupted by the towering Brad Daugherty, co-owner of Stenhouse’s No. 47 just next door. The trio shares laughs and hugs and wish each other luck. NASCAR President Steve Phelps drops in as well, sharing a pleasant conversation with Childress.

4 p.m.: Reddick stops by on the way to his car, laughing with the group he worked with from 2020-22. Childress, meanwhile, has found the Busches, chatting with Samantha while Brexton and a friend laugh at their side. Kyle is still holding Lennix, who looks content in dad’s arms.

4:05 p.m.: The Busch family gathers just outside the driver-side door, heads bowed as the pre-race prayer gets underway. Then their hands land over their hearts for the national anthem. The Thunderbirds rocket over the tri-oval to end it and the family shares one last moment together before Kyle climbs in.

Kyle Busch and his family embrace on the grid at the 2024 Daytona 500.
Zach Sturniolo |

4:31 p.m.: The starter gives the signal: One lap until we go green. Alexander, Widener and Mchone take seats in front of the live monitor. Reid stands behind them looking at his laptop. An anxious energy has persisted from the grid to this moment. All they want is to see that green flag.

4:34 p.m.: The green flag is out for the Daytona 500.

Lap 6: Caution. Harrison Burton gets turned near the front of the field with Carson Hocevar, spins through the tri-oval grass and back into traffic where Austin Dillon and Kaz Grala hit him. Busch escapes without damage and now sits 26th. “All good so far,” reports Busch. Alexander signals to the pit crew they will stop for fuel only, which is completed with no issue at Lap 9, rejoining in 27th.

Lap 41: “We’re real close,” Burnett says about fuel. Busch will need to save. Through the on-track jostling, Busch pushes Chase Elliott all the way to the lead, but Busch needs to fall back a bit to the front bumper of Josh Berry.

Lap 54: “Pit this time. Do not slide your tires. Fuel only.” That’s the message delivered to Busch, who’s also reminded to adjust his brake bias before hitting pit road.

Lap 55: It’s a clean stop and Busch escapes with the lead of the Chevy mates he pitted with, ahead of William Byron, Elliott, Daniel Suárez, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman and Ross Chastain.

Lap 62: The Chevys — tailed by three Toyotas — storm at full throttle past front-runners David Ragan and Ryan Preece, who are in fuel-save mode. Busch leads for the first time today.

Lap 65: It’s a photo finish for the stage win, but Elliott takes it over Larson. Busch crosses the line sixth to score five stage points as the caution flag waves. Busch describes the balance of his race car “unpredictable.” He says it’s a little tight because he loses the nose, so he’s using more wheel to pull it down with the front tires. “10-4, pal,” Burnett says. “We’ll pit for four (tires) when it opens.” Busch can go when the jack is dropped but will wait a second on fuel.

Lap 67: “Tire, tire, tire. Grab it, grab it, grab it.” The tire was wrangled, but not in enough time to avoid a safety violation for interference with the No. 45 group pitting Reddick’s car. That will be a penalty and send Busch to the tail of the field. “I don’t think we waited on fuel, did we? Did we get it?” asks Busch. “No, we didn’t get it all the way full,” Burnett confirms. “I’ll let you know how short we are in a minute.”

Lap 68: Kneeland laments losing the stage win but Burnett pumps him back up. “You did a great job there, though, man,” Burnett said. “Last to first almost.” Moments later, the fuel situation is also clarified: “It’s not cram-packed full of fuel, but it’s pretty full. We’re gonna stay out and race from here, pal.”

Lap 69: Well, staying out was the plan until the penalty is called from the tower. With a trip to the back of the field in sight, Burnett calls Busch back to pit road to top off for fuel ahead of the restart.

Lap 100: Halfway home in the Daytona 500. Burnett tells Kneeland they’re about 15-18 laps away from needing to pit. “We gonna have anybody to pit with?” Kneeland asks. “I’m working on it, Derek,” Burnett says. “Give me a minute.”

Lap 113: “Pit this time! Pit this time!” It’s a fuel-only stop as Busch arrives to the box without issue, on pit road the same time as Dillon, Stenhouse, Suárez, Hemric, Zane Smith, AJ Allmendinger and David Ragan. Busch leads the group off pit road.

Lap 123: Busch surges to the lead by himself and maintains the top lane with pushes from Byron and Allmendinger while Cindric, Blaney and Suárez push to their left. Cindric is aggressively side-drafting off through the corners, nearly pinching the No. 8 car to the wall through the 31-degree banking.

Lap 130: In the outside lane, Byron shoves Busch, trying to urge them to the front and win Stage 2. But the Penske teammates on the bottom have other thoughts. Blaney jives left from behind Cindric exiting Turn 4, sending Cindric to the outside lane as Blaney goes on to win the stage. Busch is fourth at the line for seven stage points. “Well, hell of a job again,” Burnett radios. “I would’ve never guessed the 12 would’ve shucked the 2 like that.”

Lap 133: Disaster looms. Busch leaves the pit box on the jack, but the left-front wheel was never tightened. Somehow, Busch nurses it all the way back around the 2.5-mile speedway with the wheel still attached to the car, despite sparks and a flat in the process.

Lap 134: Busch returns to the stall and gets a new left-front tire — safely secured this time through — with a top-off of Sunoco gasoline. He stays on the lead lap and returns to the tail of the field for the third time today, including the start.

Lap 149: Hello, Rowdy. Busch surges back to the lead in a three-wide move in the tri-oval. He continues to lead the middle lane with Alex Bowman in tow as the bottom falls back, while Denny Hamlin and LaJoie work to move the outside lane. Is this the year?

Lap 161: Trying to fit into the hole between LaJoie and Christopher Bell in the outside lane exiting Turn 2, Busch loses the nose of his car and scrubs the retaining wall with the right side of his car. No harm, no foul, but a scare nonetheless.

Lap 176: It’s crunch time. Burnett hurries off the pit box and over to the No. 45 team’s command, where they discuss which lap pit stops might occur. Burnett hustles back to his box and formulates a plan.

Lap 177: The call is to pit this time — but it’s too late. Busch is stuck on the high side and can’t get down to pit with the Chevys from Kaulig Racing and Spire Motorsports.

Lap 178: It’s the Toyotas’ turn to pit, including Reddick’s No. 45 car. Burnett’s goal was not to pit at the same time as Reddick so neither team was slowed, and the No. 8 car stays on track for one more lap.

Lap 179 : Finally, Busch hits pit road with only Hamlin and Haley as companions. That Busch made it to pit road was a near-miracle in the team’s eyes, nearly out of fuel after last pitting at Lap 134 to rectify the left-front issue.

Lap 183: With pit stops complete, Busch reignites his charge toward the front. Within a lap, he goes from 25th to 15th using the inside line off Turn 4 before rocketing back to the outside exiting the tri-oval.

Lap 192: And it struck. At the head of the field, an errant bump from Bowman to Byron triggers a 23-car melee at the end of the backstretch, eliminating several contenders from this Daytona 500. Busch was able to slow to a near-stop and escaped unscathed, navigating through the minefield of debris in Turns 3 and 4. The No. 8 team has life in it yet — fittingly scored eighth as the red flag waves.

Lap 196: Back to green. It’s a four-lap shootout to decide the Daytona 500. The two lanes remain in parade formation as they build to speed, gridlocking Busch in 10th.

Lap 197: Finally, an opportunity to jump to the third lane out near the wall arises in Turns 3 and 4. Busch jumps right of Bell with a head of steam as help comes from rookie Zane Smith and four others to the stripe.

Lap 198: Across the start/finish line, Elliott comes up in front of Busch. The outermost lane previously led by Busch has to check up for Elliott, but the middle lane led by Chastain and Bowman now has no momentum, allowing the inside lane to advance further with Byron out front. The middle lane reforms and pulls up to battle for third, but Busch is effectively out of it. The jostling killed his momentum, and now he dives to the bottom lane at the back of the pack coming to the white flag.

Lap 199: Coming into the tri-oval, Busch gets a massive run and leaps to the center lane — perhaps there’s a chance to salvage a decent finish out of this after all. But there’s another crash at the front of the field. Chastain and Cindric collide across the stripe and slide through the tri-oval grass. Moments after the front-runners took the white flag, the caution flag is displayed. Race over.

Lap 200 is here. It’s the lap that Busch led in 2023. Then, it just meant an overtime finish was imminent. This year, Byron led at the time of caution and won the Daytona 500.

Kyle Busch, alone, looks out at the stands during qualifying at night at Daytona.
James Gilbert | Getty Images

So ends another chapter in the story of Kyle Busch’s search for the Harley J. Earl Trophy. There was no question his car was capable. There was no question the driver was capable. But when the green flag flew, circumstances favored others once again.

The procession down pit road post-race was subdued, traditional for the runners-up in the glorious-yet-merciless “Great American Race” — stunning and celebratory for one, dismal and heartbreaking for 39 others. Busch parked the car in line and removed his helmet and head sock. It was a hasty exit from the rubber-tarnished No. 8 Chevrolet after 500 miles, but an exit he can’t make without witnessing the 26-year-old Byron who once drove for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Craftsman Truck Series performing exuberant donuts in the frontstretch grass.

Busch’s legs return to earth, he removes his mouthguard and meets with his public relations representative. He collects his hat, confirms he has no further media obligations, and begins the walk back to his motorhome through the Xfinity Series garage. En route, the reporters face the difficult job of finding the words to navigate another fresh heartbreak.

What can he say about the team’s rally through this year’s adversity?

“What about it?”

He was in position to capitalize on the restart that mattered most. What did he need for it to have gone right?

“I have no idea. I don’t know what could’ve been done different.”

“I don’t know when it was over per se,” he said of the end of the race. “We got down, we got back in line, we got out of the pits and we were seventh, eighth in line and tried to pick off a couple. Got shucked out of line. Got shoved to the back. I don’t know.”

The pursuit of questioning ends, and Busch walks away after two decades trying to claim the trophy that has eluded him in his NASCAR Cup Series career.

Petree walks behind pit wall toward the garage area, backpack in tow as he prepares to put this race behind him and head to the FOX Sports broadcast booth to help analyze the upcoming Xfinity Series race.

“We felt good about what we had today and it just didn’t work out,” Petree said. “These things, sometimes they work in your favor; sometimes they don’t. They just didn’t tonight. I’ve got to give Kyle a lot of credit. We got caught in a really bad spot with about 10 or 12 laps to go and he was like, the only thing we can do now is just be in a position to avoid the wreck which he knew was coming — then it did happen. And then that restart didn’t work out the way that I think that Kyle had figured it would. I think he probably thought there would have been a third lane forming sooner than it did, and it just didn’t work out.”

At 8:18 p.m. ET — as fitting a time as any for the longtime driver of the No. 18 car — the No. 8 Chevrolet arrives back at its hauler at the hands of Parks, Mchone, Burnett, Alexander and Lombardi. Twenty-hours later than scheduled, it’s time to load this car up and go home. But they sure wish it was being kept in Daytona instead as the centerpiece of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.

“I mean, the road crew guys did a great job,” Burnett said. “Everybody at RCR and ECR did a great job of overcoming some adversity this week to give us a car we could contend with after we got wrecked up in the 150 (duel) there. Had a great car for qualifying the car and good car for the 150 and got tore up and brought the backup car out and was capable of winning the race. So that says a lot about our team.

“On the flip side of that, we didn’t do a great job of executing. We’ve got some stuff to clean up on pit road for sure. Had really good speed. Kyle did a great job, drove his butt off all night long and just, disappointing. We had a car we were capable of winning with, and we just didn’t get it done tonight.”

Burnett was a member of Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 1 team when Jamie McMurray drove that orange and black Chevrolet into Victory Lane at Daytona. He knows the glory of the Harley J. Earl. But he knows, too, the crushing weight of the losses Daytona more readily hands out — and has to Kyle Busch for 20 years.

“It’s just, it’s one of those things, man,” Burnett said. “It’s so much that’s gotta go right to win this race, and we didn’t have enough go right today. So we’ll come back again next year and try it again. You know, they give one of them Harley J. Earls out every year. So hopefully we’ll come back next year and carry it home with us.”