Patience persevered for Kyle Busch in the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday night at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. After starting last in the field, the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) battled back from a lap down to finish ninth, earning his 13th top-10 effort in 21 career starts at the 1.5-mile oval.
“The extra 100 miles definitely helped us tonight,” Busch said. “We got a lap down early, finally put ourselves in position to get back on the lead lap, but it was just a challenge with the M&M’s Camry tonight. We want to win, and it’s hard to be disappointed with a top-10 after the weekend we’ve had.”
Busch qualified seventh for the Sunday night marathon but had to start at the tail end of the field after an accident during final practice on Saturday afternoon forced the team to the backup car. Knowing he had 600 miles to overcome the deficit, Busch exercised textbook patience during the early stages of the race, climbing to 32nd by lap 10 and 25th by lap 30.
While the Las Vegas-native was exercising a little fortitude, however, the race leaders were anything but patient, lapping the field early and often with no cautions to slow the race pace during the first 100-plus circuits around the track. The No. 18 M&M’s Camry fell victim to the early race speed on lap 69, going a lap down to the leaders. Although he was down Busch soldiered on, providing feedback to the team in the hopes of improving the car’s handling, which at the time was operating on the loose side.
The team caught its lucky break when the third caution of the race was displayed on lap 163 with Busch in position to be awarded the “Lucky Dog,” placing him back on the lead lap. He restarted the race in 17th-place, but despite numerous attempts with subtle adjustments to provide more grip on the No. 18 Toyota, the handling on the car continued to trend toward the loose side. It was a chronic condition that, other than one brief run in which the car wouldn’t turn in the center of the turns, plagued Busch through the entire race.
One last-ditch effort was made to tighten the handling on the M&M’s car during a pit stop on lap 378 in what turned out to be the last caution of the night, when crew chief Dave Rogers called for a two-tire pit stop with an air pressure adjustment and fuel. Busch restarted sixth, but the handling on the car resulted in him losing a handful of positions at the drop of the green flag. He fell back to ninth, where he ran to the race’s eventual end.