In his first start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Road America, Kurt Busch finished eighth, accomplishing the ninth top-ten finish this year with his brother's Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) team. The finish was a hard-fought effort for driver and team, who overcame mechanical issues before race start and an on-track incident on lap 36 of the 50-lap event. Both hurdles forced the champion driver to wheel his Toyota from the back of the field, including a successful final charge from 25th to eighth, over the last 12 laps of the race.
The journey to Elkhart Lake, Wisc. wasn't easy for Busch, who traveled 2,178 miles from Sonoma, Calif. where he qualified his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car to defend a race win from one year ago. Because Busch could not be at Road America on Friday during practice sessions, backup driver Colin Braun was enlisted to conduct two sessions for the KBM team. Due to a transmission issue and ultimate equipment change, the team lost valuable practice time on track, but gained enough data for Busch to review for Saturday's event.
Upon Busch's arrival from California Saturday morning, he qualified the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry in the 22nd position and identified a continued problem with the car's second gear. The team made a decision to change the transmission, once again, causing Busch to drop to the rear of the field at green flag start.
The penalty didn't deter Busch for long as he drove from 34th to 21st by the time he crossed the start-finish line on lap one. A planned green-flag pit stop on lap four allowed the team to begin fuel strategy and make a wedge adjustment to address the car's "tight left, loose power down" condition as reported by Busch. No tires were exchanged on this initial pit stop but the team dropped back to 34th after taking the pit time.
The first event caution waved on lap 11 and from the 16th position the team came down pit road, this time to take on fresh tires and fuel. As Busch exited, crew chief Mike Beam reminded the Monster Team Athlete to "save fuel" in anticipation for the end of the race, where green-white-checkered restarts and an extension of the race might be required.
The No. 54 crew elected not to pit during the event's second yellow flag period on lap 16, allowing their driver to advance to eighth place after several competitors cycled through pit road. When the race resumed, Busch was running fast lap times and was battling for position with road-course expert Ron Fellows in the No. 5 car. At the race halfway point, Busch maintained sixth place behind front runners Jaques Villeneuve, Nelson Piquet Jr., Fellows, Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt.
Busch didn't ask for many car adjustments throughout the race, but a pit stop during the third caution period of the race allowed the team to make further air pressure adjustments with new tires and to build their strategy with more fuel. Unfortunately a miscue occurred, and the team wasn't able to fill the car completely to ensure enough gas for race end. Upon weighing the gas remaining in the Sunoco fuel can, the crew estimated being three gallons short. The team would have to pit again in order to complete the race, thereby ruining their fuel strategy plan.
"Drive the heck out of it," proclaimed Beam to his driver, who was in the seventh position. Busch communicated back that he was going to adjust, "another round of front brake," to give him more leverage around competitors in the turns. Coincidentally, within the next few laps, and in one of the track's 14 turns, the No. 31 car lost control and dove across the nose of the No. 54 Toyota, causing damage to the left-front fender of the KBM machine.
During the ensuing caution, the team surrendered the fifth position in order to apply tape to repair the fender and readjust the car's alignment. The lengthy pit stop caused the team to restart the race from the 25th position. "We still have a long way to go," spoke Beam as he motivated Busch to work his way back towards the front.
As he did on lap one, Busch made significant progress on track, passing 11 cars between laps 38 and 39. On lap 41, Busch was 12th and by lap 43 had moved into the 10th position. While the No. 54 car was running lap times faster than his competitors, there wasn't enough time left in the event to work all the way to the front. Busch brought the KBM Camry home in the eighth spot.
"We didn't have enough for them today," commented Busch to his crew post race. He thanked the team for the opportunity to drive the Saturday Nationwide Series race, and then transferred to a helicopter that was waiting to take Busch to his plane for the long journey back to Sonoma, where Busch will defend his title today in the Cup Series race.
In only his third Nationwide Series start and from the pole position, Piquet Jr. recorded his first win in one of NASCAR's top-three divisions. Michael McDowell, Ron Fellows, Max Papis and Sam Hornish Jr. completed the top-five finishers. There were five caution periods for eight laps of the race along with nine lead changes across eight drivers.
The No. 54 Monster Energy team remains ninth in the Owner's Point standings, 102 points from first.
The Nationwide Series continues action June 29 in the Feed the Children 300 at the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. The television broadcast will start at 7:00pm EST on ESPN2 and on the PRN radio broadcast. Kurt Busch will make his eighth start of the season behind the wheel of the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.