Kyle Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers used smart fuel strategy and plenty of patience in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
The driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) survived a green-white-checkered finish that went four laps beyond the scheduled 301-lap distance to score his third consecutive runner-up finish at New Hampshire and his fifth top-five finish of the season.
“The guys did a great job today,” said Busch, who led once for 62 laps to score his seventh top-five finish at New Hampshire. “This Interstate Batteries Camry was good. Should have been anywhere from fourth to sixth, but we made a gutsy call there at the end to stay out and see if we can make it on fuel; barely made it, ran out right at the start-finish. We couldn’t have timed it more perfect. That was good and an overall solid effort for our team. We still know we got a little bit of work to do trying to get better and be able to catch up with some of our other competitors. Thanks to everyone at Interstate Batteries for their support here today and to our buddy Norm Miller (Interstate Batteries chairman) for his support. Happy birthday to him tomorrow. All in all, a decent day to be coming home second for our Interstate Batteries Camry.”
Busch started from the pole and led the race until JGR teammate Denny Hamlin passed him on lap 64. The Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry began to develop a tight-handling condition, something that Busch and Rogers would fight for much of the race. Rogers threw trackbar and wedge adjustments at the car over the course of the first three pit stops of the day, and while the handling was not significantly off, Busch couldn’t find exactly what he was looking for to get back to the front of the field.
Still, the Las Vegas native spent most of his afternoon in the top-five despite the handling issues. But the race strategy took a different turn when the caution waved on lap 213. Busch came to pit road fifth the following lap, and Rogers elected to change four tires and pack the car full of fuel while many other elected to take just two tires. The move cost Busch precious track position but also put him in the position for a full tank in hopes of stretching the fuel window the remaining 87 laps of the scheduled 301-lap distance.
Busch restarted back in 15th on lap 215 and had his work cut out for him to get back to the front. He was able to work his way up to 11th when another caution waved on lap 250. Unlike many of the other leaders, Busch stayed out on the track and attempted to save fuel under yellow, needing to conserve at least a lap of fuel to make it to the finish
He restarted fourth on lap 251 but battled a tight racecar and dropped to sixth by lap 270. With the race winding down, it looked as if Busch would have to settle for sixth at best, but then his fortunes changed. On lap 299, a Justin Allgaier accident brought out the yellow and forced the race into a green-white-checkered finish beyond the scheduled distance.
The good news was that a few cars in front of Busch either pitted or ran out of fuel; the bad news was that Busch was tight on fuel himself, just hoping to make it to the finish. Not only did he make it to the checkered flag, he gained two spots over the final two laps to bring home another top-five New Hampshire finish.
“I never really know how close we are on fuel, so that’s probably a good thing I didn’t know exactly how much fuel we had left,” said Busch, who recorded his eighth top-10 finish of the season. “Dave asked me, he goes, ‘Man, we’re close, what do you want to do here? Do you want to gamble and stay out?’ And I was like, ‘Might as well.’ Restarting back there in all that traffic, you can get bottled up in a wreck or something else. If it goes one green-white-checkered, you’re golden, but if it goes more than that you’re going to be in trouble. Thankfully it only went one, and we made it but we didn't have to pit. It helped us, and if we would have run out (of fuel) coming off turn 4, we may have been fourth or fifth instead of where Denny (Hamlin) ended up, who decided to pit.”