Sharp Late-Race Pit Call Vaults Busch to 3rd at Richmond

Handling woes plagued Kyle Busch for much of Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. However, a smart pit call by crew chief Dave Rogers under the final caution vaulted Busch from 16th to 3rd on fresh tires over the course of the final eight laps, helping Busch bring home an improbable third-place finish.

“It was crazy,” said Busch, who scored his 13th top-five finish in 19 starts at Richmond. “We really battled with this M&M’s Camry tonight, that’s for sure. We didn’t have our best underneath it tonight, but I have no idea the last 10 laps, I have absolutely no clue. I started 16th and finished third – that’s about all I know.

“Pretty crazy with everything going on.  I was shaking in my seat just because of how fast I was passing guys. I was like, ‘Whoa, something is going to happen, something is going to screw up.’ I was just trying to make sure I didn’t end up in it. Those guys were racing hard up front and it was really cool to watch from my seat. Glad I got by and then it kind of got settled out and got too calm and let Joey (Logano) and Jeff (Gordon) just kind of stabilize, and I could just run with them and that was all I had. Great finish for the way our day was. I just can’t say enough about the gutsy call by Dave (Rogers, crew chief).”

After starting 19th, Busch initially fought a racecar that was too tight in the center of the corner and too loose off the corner. But during early pit stops, Rogers made track bar and air pressure adjustments to bring the car around much more to Busch’s liking. Busch slowly worked his way up to fifth by lap 172. However, just as they had worked early in the race on getting the car less loose up off the corner, Busch started getting more loose off the corner during the second half of the 400-lap race. 

The loose-handling condition dropped him to as low as 13th in the running order by lap 370. With Busch and the M&M’s car looking at a possible mediocre finish, opportunity knocked when the caution waved on lap 385. Sitting 10th with just 15 laps on the No. 18’s tires, Rogers was faced with the decision to pit for tires, which were at a premium on the worn-down Richmond surface. The decision was then made for Busch to pit, and he restarted 16th when the final restart occurred with eight laps to go.

What happened next was vintage driving by Busch, who made a rarely seen four-wide pass at Richmond coming off the corner following the restart. With the fresh rubber, he was able to quickly pick his way to the front but eventually ran out of laps, bringing home his M&M’s Camry to a remarkable third-place finish with a car that had been ill-handling much of the night.

“Just tires were so stellar right there, it was unbelievable the way it looked and the way it felt,” said Busch, who won four spring races in a row at Richmond from 2009-2012. “Our finish right there was just insane. Somehow I found a fourth lane out there and got around everybody.  I had enough tire grip to make that all happen. I think they had eight laps on their tires, and we came in and put tires on and we looked like heroes. It looked like they had 80 laps on their tires. Crazy, but it worked out for us with our M&M’s Camry. Really, really happy to come home third – we did not deserve a third today. That just helps us in the points and keeps us up front. We’re going to use our win to get in the Chase, but if somehow for some reason you need two wins then maybe we can fall back on points.”

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Steven B. Wilson

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