Kyle Busch and his entire team put in a championship-like effort in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup opener Sunday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Illinois.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), led twice in the MyAFibStory.com 400 for a total of 46 laps. But after suffering damage on pit road on lap 148, handling issues kept him from the front of the field. However, crew chief Dave Rogers and the M&M’s team made a bold four-tire call with nine laps to go, and with the fresh tires Busch vaulted from 14th to a solid seventh-place finish.
“The race started out really good. Our M&M’s Camry was fast early, especially on the green racetrack,” said Busch, who recorded his 10th top-10 finish of the season. “We were superfast early, superfast when the track was green and we were out front and we could run second or third and didn’t have a gaggle of cars around you. But anytime I got in aero situations, man it was tough. Each restart, the farther back you get there, it hurts you. You don’t have room to get around these guys until you get tires and they don’t have tires. You have to have an advantage to make improvements anytime everyone is on the same game plan. Still, a great job by my M&M’s guys, we ended up seventh on a day that could have ended in 16th instead.”
After starting on the pole, Busch paced the first 28 laps of the 267-lap race. Throughout the first three stops of the day, Rogers used trackbar and air pressure adjustments to help Busch’s slightly loose-handling racecar.
While the adjustments didn’t dramatically improve the car, a trip to pit road on lap 148 threw a little adversity at the M&M’s team. Busch headed to pit road in seventh, but he had to avoid teammate Matt Kenseth, who spun in front of him entering pit road. Then, as Busch approached his pit stall and Kasey Kahne was exiting his own stall, the right front of Kahne’s car grazed the left rear of Busch’s M&M’s Toyota, making a small hole in the left-rear corner of the No. 18.
After that incident – despite hanging in and around the top-10 for much of the remainder of the 400-mile race – Busch fought a very loose-handling condition. Rogers attributed it to losing sideforce on the left rear of the car, creating more of an aerodynamic challenge.
Busch and the team still fought hard but found themselves sitting in 12th when an opportune caution waved on lap 257. Rogers took advantage and ordered Busch down pit road to get four tires and to quickly patch the hole in the left-rear quarter of his racecar. Busch restarted 14th with just six laps to go, but the combination of the fresh tires, the barebond patch on the left rear and Busch’s driving efforts resulted in gaining seven spots in just six laps to bring home a much-needed top-10 finish.
“Obviously a really good move for us to take tires there at the end,” said Busch, who also recorded his fifth top-10 finish in 10 career Sprint Cup starts at Chicagoland. “It’s hard to hold off and fight off in those situations. But, when you’re a guy on four tires through there like that, you feel like Superman. We probably should have taken four (tires) the restart before, but in all honesty I don’t know if we would have stayed out on the last one and finish where we did. Getting the four when we did was probably the best thing. Man, a crazy way to end these things. To know tires are actually worth something, people always want to put a hurting on Goodyear, but I think Goodyear did a nice job.”
Busch’s JGR companions – Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry, and Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry – finished sixth and 41st, respectively.
The last time all three JGR drivers finished in the top-10 was at the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July when Busch finished second, Hamlin finished third, and Kenseth finished fourth.