If it felt a little like the sky was falling for Kyle Busch during the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday night at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, then he wasn’t far from the truth. Busch, the driver of the M&M’s M’Prove America Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), overcame damage from a bizarre camera cable incident only to fall victim to an engine failure, leaving the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) team with a 38th-place finish.
The annual Memorial Day weekend race started out well for Busch, who had qualified eighth for the 400-lap event but wasted no time in moving to the front of the field, racing into the top-five within the first 20 laps. He took the lead for the first time on lap 75 before settling into a comfortable pace in second-place on lap 80, even reporting that he was “just riding,” biding his time in the marathon event. A quick pit stop during caution on lap 115 placed the No. 18 Toyota back in the lead.
Then things got weird. Shortly after green-flag racing resumed, a television cable fell on the racing surface causing major damage to the No. 18 Toyota. The cable sliced the right side of the car from the wheel well back while also damaging the crush panels.
NASCAR displayed the red flag to allow safety crews to clear the cable from the track, which Busch used as an opportunity to climb from his M&M’s Toyota and use a cell phone to take pictures of the damage so the team could develop a repair plan. After surveying the number of cars with damage, NASCAR brought teams to the pits, where they had 15 minutes to work on their cars.
The No. 18 team replaced the right-front fender on the M&M’s Toyota and then checked the alignment. Busch returned to the field with the lead, and he maintained the position during the next several circuits around the track. As the event’s time made the transition from day to night, the handling on the car trended toward the tight side. Despite the slight handling issue, Busch never dropped further than third in the running order.
A little more than 100 laps after overcoming the camera cable issue, Busch encountered a terminal problem when the engine on the No. 18 Toyota broke.
“I commend NASCAR first of all for taking the initiative and letting us all repair our damaged cars from the issue that we had earlier in the race,” Busch said. “Appreciate that, but from there I thought we were about a fourth- or fifth-place car tonight. We had been running first, second or third most of the evening, but just catastrophic engine failure – it seems to be that time of year again. I hate it for all my guys. They worked too hard, and they always do. But Dave Rogers (crew chief) and these guys, they pour their hearts and souls into this deal, and it’s just so frustrating to see it end on a short note like that and not getting the finish that we needed. Now we go to Dover.”
Busch’s JGR companions – Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry, and Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry – finished fourth and 15th, respectively.
Kevin Harvick won the Coca-Cola 600 to score his 21st career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his second at Charlotte.
Kasey Kahne finished 1.49 seconds behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Kurt Busch, Hamlin and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five. Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr. and Marcos Ambrose comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 61 laps, with 12 drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race. The race was delayed three times for separate incidents which forced NASCAR to display the red flag. The first two of the three red-flag periods were for the fallen camera cable, the first of which lasted 10 minutes and 40 seconds and the second one lasting 16 minutes and 22 seconds. The third red flag was displayed for an accident on lap 327, delaying the racing action for nine minutes and 13 seconds.
With round 12 of 36 complete, Kenseth leads the JGR trio in the championship point standings. He is third with 394 points, 51 behind series leader Jimmie Johnson. Busch stands 11th with 332 points, 113 out of first and three behind 10th-place Brad Keselowski. Hamlin is 24th with 238 points, 207 out of first and 97 behind Keselowski.
Fourteen races remain before the 12-driver, 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. Only the top-10 in points are locked into the Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. If multiple drivers have the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the FedEx 400 benefitting Autism Speaks on Sunday, June 2 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 12:30 p.m