DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — No one needs to remind Kyle Larson about his record at Daytona International Speedway.
He’s frustratingly winless at the famed track, which is the only NASCAR venue at which he doesn’t even have a top-five finish.
“I do believe that we are much, much better than what we show on paper,” Larson said. “I feel like 90% of the time we’re in the top six to eight at the end of the race, the final 10 laps, then we get caught up in a crash and end up finishing 28th or worse.”
Larson is one of six drivers — and one of four former Cup Series champions — who will try to end double-digit skids in the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Larson fell to 0 for 10 in “The Great American Race” last year after getting caught up in a final-lap melee.
“It’s tougher today than it’s ever been,” three-time Daytona 500 winner and current Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon said. “You’ve just got to get yourself in position and be patient.”
Larson, who has started the last two Daytona 500s from the front row, was alongside leader and eventual winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the second restart in overtime before coming home 18th. He's finished 18th or worse in half of his Daytona 500 starts.
“Eventually it’s got to work out,” Larson said. “We keep putting ourselves in position. I’m confident that we can go out there and win or at least get a good finish and get off to a good start for the year.
“There’s a lot of factors that come into play at those superspeedway races. You have to cross your fingers that you can be in front of the pack and then you execute at the finish.”
Larson, the 2021 Cup Series champion, has plenty of company in the 0-for-Daytona 500 club.
Martin Truex Jr. is winless in 19 starts in the 500, none more agonizing than losing to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin by inches in 2016. Truex doesn’t have a top-10 finish in the 500 since, but he did win the series championship the following year.
Kyle Busch is 0 for 18 in the 500, a skid that’s more of a headscratcher than a heartbreaker considering the two-time series champ has won at just about every track on the circuit. Busch has started having fun with it. He peered at a handful of Powerball tickets last year and quipped, “Better chances of winning that than the Daytona 500.”
Brad Keselowski's winless streak spans 14 Daytona 500s, also baffling considering the 2012 series champ has six wins at NASCAR’s other superspeedway, Talladega.
Keselowski had his best shot in 2021 before then-Team Penske teammate Joey Logano blocked him on the final lap, causing both to crash and allowing Michael McDowell to drive by for one of the more shocking finishes in race history.
“You just feel like you’re in position and it doesn’t happen and, yeah, it’s super painful,” said Keselowski, who listed winning the Daytona 500 atop his list of goals for 2024. “The closer you are to winning the race, the more painful it is.”
David Ragan (0 for 16) and A.J. Allmendinger (0 for 10) also are on the double-digit list.
Hall of Famers Tony Stewart, Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin are the most notable drivers to never win the Daytona 500.
Fellow Hall of Famer David Pearson needed 15 tries to win NASCAR’s signature event. Kyle Busch’s older brother Kurt needed 16. And NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt won in his 20th try — an iconic moment in series history.
Larson hopes to avoid that lengthy a wait and should have as good a chance as anyone Sunday.
“I’ve told him and all of our guys, ‘Look, we’ve led the race. We ran second last year. We have been in position to win it so many times and we get taken out," said Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, whose last Daytona 500 victory came with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2014.
“We just got to go be competitive and our turn will come. That race is so unpredictable. We just got to go run the race, but our cars are fast enough, and I think our time is coming.”
AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.
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