Kyle Busch piloted the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry to a second-place finish at Chicagoland (Ill.) Speedway in Joliet Saturday afternoon, collecting his fifth top-10 finish on the 1.5-mile oval across nine starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. It was Busch's 16th time piloting his own Toyota in NASCAR's second series, resulting in the company's 15th top-10 and 10th top-five finish of their inaugural season.
The Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) team was anxious for a Chicago return, having raced there with Kyle earlier in the year, without a good result. In the spring race, Busch had a top-five starting position but struggled with car handling and then a late-race accident that didn't allow the team to finish. Coming back to Chicagoland this time, the KBM group brought a new chassis, one that was proven to perform well.
The weekend started off right, when Busch and team ran successful laps over two practice sessions on Friday. The veteran driver felt comfortable with the car setup, telling his crew at one point, "car's good, we could park it now." They proceeded to make slight adjustments, trying different setups that provided Busch with the speed he needed to top the charts. Busch's Saturday morning qualifying effort was fast and the No. 54 team earned a sixth-place qualifying spot, their 13th top-ten starting position of the year.
The green flag dropped under warm sunny conditions Saturday afternoon and Busch made quick work of the field, moving into the fourth position by lap two. An early event caution waved and the team chose to remain on the racetrack, saving pit strategy for a future stop. Busch felt the car was, "tight, all the way through" and he and crew chief Mike Beam discussed ways to loosen up the car's handling, which they addressed during a second event caution, visiting pit road on lap 41.
The car adjustments worked well and during the next portion of the race, Busch drove his way from fourth to first place, taking the lead on lap 61 of the 200-lap event. Once in the lead, the team owner-driver battled for position with the No. 3 car of Austin Dillon, swapping between first and second place over 10 laps.
A green-flag pit stop at lap 96, from the third position, offered the Toyota team another chance to make adjustments to the tire pressures for better car handling. Busch was recorded in the third spot at the event's halfway point, lap 100, while crew chief Mike Beam called out circuit times to his driver. Busch was running 31.95- second lap times compared to the leaders running 32.00-second lap times. The team was encouraged and Busch felt the car was finally coming to him.
The fourth yellow-flag caution period waved at lap 124, which gave Busch the opportunity to discuss what he needed for adjustments with the team. "Just need front turn, entry to center, and I'm money!" commented Busch. He continued, "the car is good." A subsequent visit to pit road on lap 125 provided the opportunity to take four fresh tires and Sunoco fuel. Busch restarted in third on lap 129 and by lap 135 once again was scored in the first position. Busch would lead the race for 33 more laps until he made one final visit to pit road, under yellow-flag conditions.
The team made a few more adjustments to free up the No. 54 machine for their owner-driver, who led the race until lap 180. In the closing laps of the race, however, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. overtook the No. 54 Camry and remained in the lead until the finish. Busch and team would finish in second place.
"We had a really good car. It ran well throughout the race. It was fast. I thought that there wasn't anybody back there that we had to deal with -- and then the No. 6 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) came out of nowhere there at the end. I don't know where he came from, but he had a fast race car. I'm really excited about that run. The Monster Energy Camry did great. The guys did a really good job at preparing it for me - Mike Beam (crew chief) and everybody at KBM Chassis, they gave us a good piece today. Today we just came up a little bit short."
Stenhouse Jr. recorded his seventh victory in 99 NASCAR Nationwide Series races. Busch finished in the second spot, while Dillon, Brad Keselowski and Paul Menard completed the top-five finishers. There were five caution periods for 20 laps of the race along with 17 lead changes across nine drivers, including Busch who led four times for 50 laps. The No. 54 Monster Energy team remains ninth in the Owner's Point standings, 125 points from the leader.