Kurt Busch drove his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS to a 12th-place finish in Sunday’s Geico 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. But the finish was far from indicative of just how strong a racecar he had.
Busch started 19th in the 43-car field and led once for one lap en route to recording his 15th top-15 in 29 career Sprint Cup starts at the 2.66-mile oval. It also marked his 10th-consecutive top-15 finish.
While Busch’s position fluctuated every lap as a result of the multicar draft that kept the field bunched closely together, his Haas Automation Chevrolet had the strength it needed to hold position inside the top-20. On lap 46, Trevor Bayne lost control of his racecar and spun on the backstretch, collecting 16 cars in the aftermath. Busch was able to avoid the incident, which caused an 11-minute red-flag period, that unfolded in front of him. Busch and crew chief Tony Gibson used the time to their advantage, formulating a plan to correct the handling of the No. 41 Chevrolet that was loose on corner entry.
Busch’s positon continued to fluctuate lap after lap, but he steadily and strategically advanced toward the front of the field as the laps clicked off. As leaders began to make their way to pit road under green-flag conditions for what would be their final pit stop of the day, Austin Dillon’s engine expired, bringing out the caution flag. Busch, who had not yet pitted, came to pit road for right-side tires and fuel. While he won the race off pit road, he lined up ninth for the lap-163 restart as a result of the eight drivers that had already made their trips to pit road under green-flag conditions in the laps prior to the caution period. As the race restarted, he found himself stuck behind Brad Keselowski, and the pair was hung out to dry – dropping from the front of the pack to the back.
With the leaders in a single-line formation, it appeared Busch would be relegated to a finish far less deserving of his efforts. But, on the last lap, a pair of incidents on the backstretch gave Busch the opportunity to regain some of his lost ground. He was able to avoid the melees to take the checkered flag 12th.“The last pit stop we executed well, we came out in the lead,” Busch said. “But it was the guys that pitted before the yellow that got to stay ahead of us because at a 2.66-mile racetrack, you don’t lose a lap if the yellow comes out during the sequence. So we restarted ninth, and when (Dale Earnhardt) Junior took the lead he stayed high on lap two of that run. So for the next, I don’t know, 40 laps we all ran the top side. It’s a shame, but it’s a move where you block everybody. The No. 88 was using the wall to keep everybody in line. It’s a good move for the leader to make, but it’s tough. We couldn’t get a run from the back to catch everybody, and then with the wreck happening in turn two, I had to go to the safest route down on the apron and we were able to get through there clean. If it’s a top-15 finish, we will take it with the Haas Automation Chevy.”