Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch brought the No. 54 Monster Energy program to victory lane Saturday, for the team’s second win across four weeks this race season. The win gives Busch his 53rd career visit to the checkered flag podium in 248 starts, a series record. Taking home the trophy Busch captured his fifth victory and 11th top-five finish in 18 NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) starts at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, tying him for the most NNS series triumphs in track history.
During initial on-track activity at “The World’s Fastest Half Mile,” it was evident that Busch would fight a tight-handling car. Through two practice sessions Friday, the 27-year-old Busch paced the field 5th and 12th fastest, trying different setups to best balance the car on the fast .533-mile oval.
Race day morning the team made further notes of improvement for race trim, when Busch earned a 13th-place starting spot for the Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300.
Upon green flag, Busch wasted no time moving to the front of the field, driving to within the top-10 by lap nine, the top five by lap 33, all while experiencing the same tight condition he felt during earlier practice sessions. The team made two pit stops during the course of the event, changing tires, taking on fuel and making one wedge adjustment. Busch felt the second stop was productive, relaying back to crew chief Adam Stevens, “that stop gave the tires a little more grip.”
On lap 76 of the 300-lap event, Busch secured the lead and maintained it until almost 100 laps later when, the team dropped to second coming off pit road after a pit stop sequence. Over the next third of the race, Busch showcased his talent fighting and winning close battles on track with other veterans, tracking down and passing drivers Kevin Harvick, Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski. The exchange with Harvick in the No. 33 car lasted several laps and was hard-fought, in the end Busch prevailed.
The final battle came in the end of the race, when rookie Kyle Larson (Chevrolet) caught Busch and became a threat during the waning laps of the event. In the end, Larson was unable to make a last push for the lead over the 12-time Bristol race winner, however, showed his talent giving Busch a close run for the money. The Monster Energy driver took the checkered flag first, beating Larson in close fashion, by 0.23 seconds, the second closest finish in Nationwide Series history at Bristol.
The NASCAR veteran once again celebrated taking the checkered flag with a spectacular smoke show. When interviewed post-race, the excited driver described, “This was a hard fought race today. I wasn’t sure that we were going to get it there for a little while racing the 33 (Kevin Harvick) – he drove away from me. I just kept digging in and put my head to it and just kept trying to run the best line that I could.”
Busch continued, “This year driving JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars on Saturday and Sunday, I think that’s a benefit. Of course having JGR engines with Mark Cronquist (JGR engine builder) in the Nationwide Series is great and having Adam (Stevens) to work with as a crew chief – he’s really good. All in all though, I can’t say enough about this whole team – everybody on this Monster Energy Toyota Camry program.”
The seasoned Bristol lap leader recorded a race high 156 of 300 laps led over two segments. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler finished 3rd and 36th respectively. Larson, Vickers, Sam Hornish Jr. and Harvick completed the top-five finishers. There were eight caution periods for 54 laps of the race along with five lead changes across five drivers.
The No. 54 Monster Energy team jumps from fifth to second in the Owner’s Point standings, now only 15 points from the lead.
The next event on the NNS schedule is the Royal Purple 300 from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana (Ca.) with the race television broadcast starting at 4:30 p.m. EST on ESPN. Busch will make his fifth start of the season behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.