On a track known as the Tricky Triangle, Kyle Busch almost pulled off the greatest trick of the day during Sunday’s Good Sam RV Insurance 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
The 26-year-old driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), who started 11th and was on the move to the front right from the drop of the green flag, spun just 12 laps into the race and was sent to the back of the field. He immediately rallied back toward the front, then led three times for 27 laps late in the race before getting shuffled out of the top spot on a restart with 16 laps to go before having to settle for a runner-up finish.
“It was a good day considering everything,” said Busch, who crossed the finish line .791 of a second behind race-winner Brad Keselowski for his fourth top-five finish in 14 career Sprint Cup races at Pocono and his 11th top-five of 2011. “It was an awesome opportunity to come out of here with a good day. I just wish we could’ve gotten a win to get into the Sprint Showdown, as well as to just get another win to seed ourselves for the Chase (for the Sprint Cup Championship) We just missed it and I just hate it for the guys – this M&M’s team, all these guys, Interstate Batteries on this Toyota. They did a great job – Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and everybody. The pit stops were flawless.”
Busch moved from his 11th starting position all the way up to sixth before he completed 10 laps around the 2.5-mile triangle. But on lap 13, his car got away from him coming out of turn three and sent him spinning toward the entrance to pit lane. The caution flag flew just as Busch entered pit lane and he calmly proceeded straight to the M&M’s pit box for four fresh tires and fuel before rejoining the race with his car otherwise unscathed. After most of the rest of the field executed their pit stops under caution two laps later, Busch was sent to the back of the
pack for bringing out the yellow and taking on tires and fuel before the pit lane was officially open for pit stops.
Unfazed by the penalty, Busch simply charged back toward the front from the 34th position when the race went back to green on lap 16. He was 30th after one lap, 24th after two laps, held that position through three laps of caution from laps 19 to 22, then continued to be the fastest car in the field. He was 15th by lap 23, in the top-10 by lap 26, and was up to fourth by lap 40. That’s a remarkable 30 positions in 24 laps that Busch made up on the racetrack with a car crew chief Rogers called a “rocket ship” over the radio during the run.
Little was needed to improve the M&M’s Camry during a green-flag pit stop on lap 41 and a stop under caution on lap 101. From there, Busch worked his way forward into the top-three. He held the lead briefly after getting past his JGR teammate Denny Hamlin on lap 82, but gave it up when he pitted under green on lap 87.
Busch was fourth behind polesitter and his other JGR teammate Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Hamlin when rain began to fall and brought out the red flag on lap 122. The race resumed after a successful one-hour and 40-minute track drying effort and Busch went back to work. He remained a fixture in the top-five all the way to lap 200, running as high as second on lap 140 behind his brother Kurt Busch on lap 136, and then grabbing the lead from his brother on lap 163. Busch gave up the lead once again when he pitted for the last time on lap 173, but was back in front once again two laps later when the rest of the field cycled through its final round of stops.
Busch opened up an almost-four-second lead over Keselowski during that stretch before the caution came out on lap 179 for an incident involving Juan Pablo Montoya and Kasey Kahne. For the lap-184 restart, Busch chose the inside lane with Keselowski on the outside and Johnson behind him. Johnson immediately began making an inside move on Busch, making contact with Busch’s left-rear bumper and slipping alongside him as they entered turn one. Johnson was eventually shuffled back to fourth, but the contact with Busch enabled Keselowski to take the lead. Busch was able to stay less than a second behind the Penske Racing driver but was never able to get by over the final 16 laps.
“It’s not what we wanted, for sure.” Busch said. “Unfortunately, there on that restart, I don’t know that I would’ve changed anything. I thought the inside was good for me. I’d been running down lower in turn one all day and Jimmie (Johnson) just got to my inside there and kind of slowed me down, down the straightaway. It’s racing. That’s why we’re here, that’s why we’re running as long as we are and as hard as we are. I can’t say enough about all of these guys. The M&M’s Camry was flawless. I just didn’t have enough there at the end. I think track
position and clean air was pretty crucial. We had a good day. We come out of here with a top-two. I wish we could’ve won. Maybe we can get another one in the next couple of weeks.”
Busch’s JGR companions – Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry, and Logano, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry – finished 15th and 26th, respectively.
Like Busch, Hamlin and Logano led multiple laps. Hamlin led four times for a race-high 65 laps while Logano led five times for 44 laps. However, separate late-race issues derailed the fine runs by both drivers. Nonetheless, JGR drivers paced the field for a total of 136 laps – 68 percent of the 200 laps available.
Kyle Busch PR