Kyle Busch gets Rolex 24 driving schedule as team hunts for speed


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.

HOW TO WATCH THE ROLEX 24: Full details on today’s race

DAYTONA’S FORD VS. FERRARI TIE: Recalling when Ken Miles won Daytona

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.”

The No. 14 Lexus RC-F GT3 that Kyle Busch will share with three other drivers during the Rolex 24 at Daytona (Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images).

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.

“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.”

Pato O’Ward back at home in Texas but still dreaming of an IndyCar race in Mexico

IndyCar Pato Texas
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

FORT WORTH, Texas — The face of Pato O’Ward can be seen on billboards all around Mexico City, and the young driver so much wants to have an IndyCar race in his native country.

“It doesn’t matter where it is,” O’Ward said. “The place would be packed.”

Nearly a month after O’Ward came oh-so-close to winning the season opener, IndyCar’s second race is Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

It’s the closest track for the series to Mexico and San Antonio, the Texas city where he grew up after his parents sought a safer childhood for O’Ward and his sister.

Texas Motor Speedway is also where O’Ward earned his first IndyCar victory in 2021, just a few days shy of his 22nd birthday.

With his energetic presence and unwavering confidence, O’Ward already has become a favorite in his home country. He also is a rising star in the open-wheel series in his fourth season with Arrow McLaren.

He has four career wins in 48 races for the team, winning twice in both 2021 and 2022. He came within a “plenum event” of winning the March 5 season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, and is atop the IndyCar on NBC Sports’ power rankings heading into Texas.

“Getting the right opportunity is the hardest thing to do, because you can’t blame somebody for not wanting to give you the keys to a program that is worth millions of dollars,” O’Ward said. “When you’re young and you’re coming into it, you need to prove yourself. But in order to prove yourself properly, you need the right opportunity.”

Just before last year’s Indianapolis 500, the driver who has always wanted to race in Formula One signed a new IndyCar contract with Arrow McLaren through the 2025 season.

“The longer that I go, the more I realize this is the right place, right time,” O’Ward said. “There’s things that you can’t control all the time. But I feel very grateful and very lucky that I had that opportunity (with McLaren). They’ve given me the best opportunity that I could have asked for, and I’ve definitely delivered in what they’ve wanted and probably more.”

Instead of dwelling on the near-miss in St. Pete, O’Ward chose to focus on the second-place finish on a street course where he had struggled in previous season openers.

“Pato is an amazing talent, one of the quickest guys I’ve seen come in the series,” reigning IndyCar Series champion Will Power said. “I’m sure he’s going to be an Indy 500 champion in the future, which is really good for the series.”

O’Ward joined teammate Alexander Rossi and Patrick Dimon, director of an upcoming IndyCar docuseries, on a panel at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, earlier this month that previewed the six-part “100 Days To Indy” that premieres in mid-April.

Like O’Ward, Power believes IndyCar should run a race in Mexico. The two-time IndyCar champ recalls the massive crowds drawn to Champ Car races there before the series merged into the IndyCar Series.

For now, O’Ward, who was born in Monterrey, Mexico, and moved to San Antonio with his family at 11, is doing what he can to help get fans to Texas Motor Speedway. The IndyCar race is on the same day there are events at three other major sporting venues in North Texas.

The NCAA Division I women’s national championship game is in Dallas on Sunday afternoon at the home of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. The Texas Rangers will wrap up a season-opening MLB series at home that night against National League champion Philadelphia, at the same time Taylor Swift is doing her third concert in as many nights at AT&T Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys across the street in Arlington.

At Texas Motor Speedway, there will be about 200 people who bought packages that include a Pato jersey, a cap signed by the driver, garage access and catered food in one of three luxury suites. There will also be a “Pato Grandstand” for fans who got a race ticket for any single item they bought from the driver’s official merchandise site.

O’Ward knows he will see plenty of Mexican flags at TMS, as he does at every track, a reminder of the country that is pulling for him. There also are a lot more people wanting to take photos with him when he’s out in public.

So is that a burden on O’Ward?

“Not at all. I love it,” he said. “We’re in entertainment. … I do it for me because I love it. And I love to see people celebrate and enjoy what I love to do. That’s what it’s all about.”

He likens the attention that he gets to those times when he’s watching Supercross races and pulling for his favorite motorcycle riders.

“I mean I get into it when one guy’s chasing the other one for the lead,” O’Ward said. “I know what it’s like for people when they watch me. I know what it feels like. And it’s awesome.”