Kyle Busch and his No. 18 M&M’s team knew they had some work to do following Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series final practice session at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
The driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), crew chief Dave Rogers and the entire team rolled up their sleeves and made wholesale changes to the car Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. All the effort paid off well with a solid second-place finish in Saturday night’s Quaker State 400.
“The M&M’s guys here, they did a great job for me this weekend,” said Busch, who scored his third top-five finish in four starts at Kentucky. “We were a lot better than we’ve been all year long, and that’s a testament to what the guys did overnight fixing this M&M’s Camry into what I could drive today and making it fast. It was a long shot from where we’ve been this weekend. We had good speed, so I was real proud of that effort. I got so loose there at the end – the loosest I’ve gotten all day and the loosest I’ve been in traffic all day, too. I just couldn’t hold on and couldn’t keep it where I wanted it.”
While he started 18th, Busch knew that his M&M’s Camry was much better than it had been at the end of Friday’s final practice. The Las Vegas native worked his way up to 11th in just 20 laps and quickly broke into the top-10 on lap 28. Still, the M&M’s Camry was too loose for Busch’s liking. Rogers and team kept throwing changes at the car but couldn’t quite tighten it up enough. Still, by lap 68 Busch had worked his way into the top-five, and he never dropped below fourth from lap 78 through the end of the 267-lap race.
The key point of the race came when Busch made what would be his final pit stop of the night. Just as he entered pit road, the caution waved for an accident involving Aric Almirola. The M&M’s team was able to perform a lightning-fast stop, getting Busch back on the track before leader Brad Keselowski, who had dominated most of the race, could pass him at the exit of pit road. So as the rest of the field needed to make a stop under yellow, Busch had already completed his stop and stayed on the lead lap, vaulting into his first lead of the race on lap 215.
Busch would lead the next 31 laps, but as the race wound down, his car’s handling got progressively looser, enabling Keselowski to close the margin and eventually pass the No. 18 for the lead with 19 laps to go. All Busch could do was hold on to his loose-handling car and bring home a strong second-place run that was the result of a lot of hard work over the course of the weekend.
“With clean air you have to take advantage of it as much as you can, and so I tried to hustle as much as I could there early to get a big lead, and once we got to traffic I knew I would back up a little bit,” said Busch of trying to hold off Keselowski during the run to the finish. “I was the loosest I was the whole race and the loosest I was there in the end, especially in traffic, too. I was trying to hang onto it as best I could and not wreck – I about did probably 10 times in that last run.
“The guys made some great adjustments. I can’t say enough about the brains of the operation, Dave Rogers (crew chief), and all the guys last night and this morning trying to figure out some good changes, and they did that, and all the guys here that move all the wrenches and put it all together. The M&M’s guys here, they did a great job for me this weekend. We’ll see how we can keep that speed going on in the weeks to come.”