A promising start for Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), in the Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up To Cancer NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway Sunday ended with a 15th-place finish.
“We had a very eventful day,” Busch said. “I don’t even know how to describe it. This is a good sign. We had good long-run speed, and that is the most positive thing to take from the last couple of weeks where we didn’t have that long-run speed. I think we found some good things in our Haas Automation Chevrolet.”
Busch started seventh in the 43-car field and led six times for 98 laps to bring his laps-led total at Bristol to 1,021. It was Busch’s 19th top-15 finish in 29 career Sprint Cup starts at the .533-mile oval and his fifth top-15 this season.
When Busch took the green flag, he did so without the familiar sound of crew chief Tony Gibson’s voice over the team’s radio. Gibson, who had fallen ill earlier in the day, was taken to a nearby medical facility for treatment. However, the No. 41 team knew just the guy to substitute in for him in the eighth race of the 2015 season: engineer Johnny Klausmeier.
By the time heavy rain began to fall on lap 22, the No. 41 had advanced to fourth. NASCAR was forced to display the red flag for almost four hours before the rain finally let up and officials were able to restart the race. Despite struggling with a handling issue that saw his Haas Automation Chevrolet tight on corner exit, Busch was able to advance to the front of the field, taking the lead on lap 70.
Busch would maintain position inside the top-five until another rain shower would force a second stoppage. After pitting for fresh tires and fuel, he would restart third. Unfortunately, the No. 41 got loose under Jimmie Johnson and spun, yet Busch was able to keep from hitting anything or being hit by the field driving past his red-and-black racecar as it sat sideways on the racetrack.
After a trip to pit road for fresh tires, Busch would spend the next 166 laps working his way back to the front of the field. As the laps clicked off and the finish neared, a multicar caution on lap 472 saw Busch and Klausmeier forced to make a difficult decision – whether to pit or stay out under the yellow flag. Thinking it was best to take tires, Busch came to pit road. With some of the other lead-lap drivers electing to stay out, he fell from the lead to sixth place.
As Busch was closing on the leaders after a strong restart, Carl Edwards got loose in front of him. Busch was unable to avoid contact with Edwards’ No. 19 machine, heavily damaging the right-front suspension of his Haas Automation Chevrolet. He brought his battered machine to pit road, where the No. 41 team did their best to make repairs and avoid being left with a DNF (did not finish). Their hard work allowed Busch to see the checkered flag, albeit far from the way he envisioned.“We had 100 laps on our tires,” Busch said. “I thought we needed to pit. Klausmeier thought we needed to pit. Then I was thinking this is the Bristol of old, and we might be able to get away with staying out. It turned out that (Matt) Kenseth brought it on home to Victory Lane by staying out. Congratulations to him. We had fresh tires coming up through. Edwards pushed the cushion. He hit some ice, I hit the same stuff or he was throwing the marbles out on the track, and I just got sucked right in there. I thought I would be able to miss the wreck, but I couldn’t do anything to avoid them. We salvaged 15th. The car could have won. Thanks Gene (Haas, car owner), sorry we didn’t get a win. He would have said to pit if he’s watching. Thanks to everybody, Monster Energy, State Water Heaters, Mobil 1, Rush Truck Centers, Hendrick Engines, the great group we have at Stewart-Haas Racing. We will get it. We are not going to get one win. We are going to get many wins.”