DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Even a two-time NASCAR Cup champion can’t avoid driving in the dead of night in his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut.
Kyle Busch has received his marching orders for the endurance race classic, and he’ll be in the No. 14 Lexus RC F GT3 from 6-9 p.m. Saturday, 2-4 a.m. and 7-9 a.m. Sunday.
Busch playfully has been hinting that he was lobbying AIM Vasser Sullivan Racing to avoid the graveyard shift that challenges drivers to be on full alert at high speed.
“That’s going to suck, yeah,” he deadpanned about his 2-4 a.m. stint. “That’s exactly when I told them I did not want to run, and I got it. Thank you very much.
“(I’m) the new guy. I pulled the short straw.
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But “the new guy” did well in practice the past two days on the 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway, though time was limited by damage to the bottom of his team’s car because of some new curbing near the Bus Stop section. The No. 14 will start from the rear after missing qualifying because repairs necessitated an engine change.
“It was unfortunate to not get in earlier in the day, but then I got some good laps (Thursday) night and then got a couple more good laps (Friday) morning. I think I ran the quickest of our cars this morning. I don’t know what that means. Yay, I guess. But we’re slow, so that’s a problem.”
Busch took some solace in that he wasn’t the only team driver struggling. Jack Hawksworth, the veteran who will start and finish the race in the No. 14, also complained about its handling.
“It made me feel a little bit better about it, but still I looked like a butt while out there,” said Busch, who also is sharing the car with Parker Chase and Michael De Quesada. “So then we got in it (Saturday) morning. Jack got in, ran some laps, then I was able to get in and ran some laps, and I felt like I was back to Square One like I was here at the test.
“I felt like my lap times were decent. I felt like the feel of the car was good. So I was like, ‘OK, I’m better now.’ ”
During the Roar before the Rolex test three weeks ago, Busch was about 0.3 seconds off the pace of Hawksworth, who has served as his de-facto driving coach. When they went to the Toyota Racing Development driving simulator, Busch got within a tenth of Hawksworth.
But when the Joe Gibbs Racing driver got back behind the wheel again Thursday night at Daytona, he had to hang a U-turn after spinning in Turn 1 while running on tires near the end of their 29-lap run.
Long line of people in the @Rolex24Hours autograph line for @KyleBusch, including some dressed like this #nascar fan. Another proudly proclaimed membership in Rowdy Nation.
Kyle has been thanking each for coming out to see him. pic.twitter.com/clu76Px9bO
— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) January 25, 2020
“I ran like 12 laps, and I was assholes and elbows,” he said. “It was ugly. Then Jack got in right after me, and he was like, ‘Oh, my God, mate, this car is terrible.’”
After being outside the top 10 in lap speeds for the first three sessions, the No. 14 was seventh in the final practice but trailing AIM Vasser Sullivan’s No. 12. The team’s other Lexus, which is driven by NBCSN analyst Townsend Bell, Frankie Montecalvo, Shane van Gisbergen and Aaron Telitz, will start seventh in the GTD class.
“Since the test here and even today a little bit, the 12 has been a little bit better, faster than us,” Busch said. “We’ve gone down our own path. They kind of went down their own path. We’re trying to science it all out and figure it out and see what we need to do to make our car faster, and we’re kind of starting to mimic some of the stuff they were doing.”