The one-mile concrete surface known as the "Monster Mile" proved difficult for the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota team on Saturday from Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Despite challenging car conditions throughout the race, Kurt Busch and the Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) team earned a fourth-place finish notching their fifth top-five record of their inaugural season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The finish allowed Kyle Busch and his KBM contingency to remain ninth in the Owner's Points Championship run for which they set their sights on earlier in the year.
The older of the Busch brothers most recently won in the Sprint Cup Series at Dover in 2011 and also has a Truck Series win there, but a Nationwide Series victory has yet to be added to his resume. With a ninth-place qualifying position set, Busch and KBM team were anxious to show how their Camry would do passing competitors in the field. Upon the 200-lap race start, the Monster Energy Team Athlete moved his car through the field quickly obtaining the third place by lap 23 and then the second position on lap 32.
What became a regular reference for Busch throughout the race was an explanation of a "loose-in tight-off" car condition. As the driver entered turn one, the rear of the race car would want to spin around. While driving through and exiting turn two, the car would "push" or refuse to turn the way Busch needed it to in order to maintain a fast speed, while maneuvering past other cars in the field. The team would ultimately fight for this perfect car balance the majority of the race.
At the third caution period of the day, set by NASCAR to encourage teams to check their tire wear, the No. 54 Monster Energy team took their first opportunity to make car adjustments, replacing four Goodyear tires and taking Sunoco fuel. Upon race restart, Busch explained that the changes gave the car a better entry into the turns and reduced the "tight" feeling he was experiencing, however, driver and crew chief started discussing what further changes might positively affect the car's handling when the team would pit again.
Approaching the halfway point in the race, crew chief Mike Beam pumped up his driver over the radio, communicating that his lap times were faster than the leader, Joey Logano, and Justin Allgaier, who resided in second. A second pit stop of the race provided time for the team to get more aggressive with their car changes, this time putting a rubber into the left-rear spring, in an effort to battle the tight-handling feeling Busch continued to struggle with.
A green-flag pit stop at lap 119 put the No. 54 Toyota team down a few laps until all other competitors cycled through pit road, eventually placing the Monster Energy Camry back into third place when a race caution appeared at lap 123. "Save fuel," described Beam, "shut her off, we don't want to ride around in fourth gear, we'll knock the bearings off it." A subsequent caution period on lap 132 provided the team a chance to pit one final time. From the second-place spot in the field, the Monster Energy group took fresh tires and this time made a wedge adjustment.
"Car is finicky today," Busch exclaimed airing his frustration at the back and forth conditions he fought throughout the event, while dropping to the fifth spot. Although his lap times were once again consistent and some laps were faster than the race leader, Busch was only able to gain one more position before finishing fourth at race end.
"It was a tough battle with left side tires. It seemed like it would make you tight, make you loose and so you were on this razorblade edge," explained Busch post race. "I'm proud of this race team. From where we started this season to where we are now, consistently running top-five finishes and getting better at being competitive for the win. Fourth-place today behind the Gibbs (Joe Gibbs Racing) guys, we're getting there. It was great to have Kyle (Busch, owner) on the pit box checking everything out today."
Logano recorded his first win at the "Monster Mile" which was his fourth victory in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this year and 13th of his career. Pole-sitter Ryan Truex followed 1.526 seconds behind in the second-finishing spot while Brian Scott, Busch and Allgaier completed the top-five finishers. There were six caution periods for 27 laps of the race along with five lead changes across three drivers.
The No. 54 Monster Energy team remains ninth in the Owner's Point standings, 89 points from the leader.