Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished fifth in the Irwin Tools Night Race Saturday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway after starting seventh to score his sixth top-five result this season and his eighth top-five in 28 career Sprint Cup starts at the .533-mile oval.
From the drop of the green flag, “tight on exit” was a consistent comment from Busch regarding the handling of his Haas Automation Chevrolet, but despite struggling with corner exit, the 36-year-old driver was able not only to manage the issue but to advance his position. It took him 17 laps to crack the top-five, overtaking eventual race winner Joey Logano for the fifth spot on lap 17. He would hold the spot until the competition caution, when the No. 41 team had their first opportunity to make adjustments to their red-and-black machine. Despite giving up a handful of positions for the restart as a result of varying pit strategies, Busch was able to once again race his way into the top-five.
As the race wore on, the tight-handling condition on corner exit was compounded by a loose-handling condition on corner entry. It reached a tipping point around the halfway mark, when Busch began to fall through the field. Despite the ill-handling issues, Busch made the most of what he had and was able to stay on the lead lap during an extended green-flag run. With the tires on his No. 41 Chevrolet “smoked,” Busch fell back to 14th when a well-timed caution flag on lap 359 gave him the opportunity he needed to hit pit road to get fresh tires and another round of chassis adjustments.
Busch restarted the race in 14th-place but made steady progress as the laps clicked off, climbing back into the top-10 by lap 381.
Busch was scored sixth when the last caution of the race was displayed on lap 432, giving the Daniel Knost-led team one last opportunity to make adjustments to the Haas Automation Chevrolet. The No. 41 team opted to take four tires and fuel, while others stayed out or took right-side tires only, which saw Busch line up for the lap-437 restart in the 10th position. Busch put in a workmanlike effort during the closing laps to position the No. 41 Chevy in fifth when the checkered flag waved.
“I’m worn out,” Busch said. “I gave it all I had and raced hard for all that she would give me. It seemed like after every 50 laps our tires would drop off quite a bit. But man we rallied, rallied, rallied, and the crew chief (Knost) made a change with 130 to go that kept us from going a lap down and turned us into a top-five car. Great job to the team to make that call and to give up the track position and to bring our Haas Automation Chevy in for a top-five finish.”