Kyle Busch led only one lap in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, but came within metres of making it the one lap that matter in the latest round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing was involved in last lap fireworks as contact with the #14 of Tony Stewart thwarted a win just a few yards short of the finish line.
Instead of celebrating his 16th career Sprint Cup victory and his second point-paying win at Daytona, Busch instead had to settle for a 14th-place finish – and a wrecked race car.
“We went for it right there at the end,” said crew chief Steve Addington. “This is a product of restrictor-plate racing with these race cars. What are you going to say? Everybody on this race team worked their tails off and we had a good race car.
“I can't say anything. I'm not pointing any fingers at Tony. He was trying to win the race, Kyle was trying to block him for the win and we got turned around.”
Starting from eighth spot after Friday's qualifying session was rained-out, Busch quickly moved into the top-five by lap eleven. Addington made adjustments to the Interstate Batteries Toyota that progressively improved its tight-handling condition, providing Busch the opportunity to patiently click off laps as he rode in second-place for most of the event behind either Stewart or his JGR team-mate Denny Hamlin.
The fireworks that undid Busch's run to the finish began when a late caution set up a double-file restart with just four laps remaining. Stewart led the field to the green flag with Hamlin on his outside and Busch settling in behind Stewart in third. While the field shuffled a bit on the restart, the fireworks commenced on the race's final lap.
With drafting help from Hamlin, Busch was able to overtake Stewart on the outside as the duo came off turn four. As they crossed the stripe for the white flag lap, Busch led until the two returned to turn four for the final time.
As Busch hugged the yellow line and blocked Stewart's first attempt at a pass with the chequered flag just yards away, Busch moved high to block Stewart's second attempt to pass on the outside. Contact was made, and Busch spun hard into the SAFER Barrier on the outside of the circuit.
To make matters worse, the #9 car of Kasey Kahne plowed into the rear of Busch's car as the Interstate Batteries machine slid down the banking. The impact pushed Busch across the start/finish line before JGR team-mate Joey Logano delivered another powerful hit to what was left of the #18 Toyota.
“It's a big disappointment,” said Addington. “We sat there, Kyle was patient all night long and sat there and rode. Jeff (Dickerson, spotter) kept telling him to just click off laps and we didn't have any power issues. We were just fine. We took care of our tyres all night long to be there at the end because we needed to have a good points day and we were in a position to go for the win and he did and we end up wrecked. What are you going to say? I appreciate Interstate Batteries and Toyota and everybody sticking with us and we'll just go to Chicago and try to win that one.”