Speedway Digest Staff
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No St. Patrick’s Day Luck for Stewart
It was St. Patrick’s Day, but there was no luck to be found by Tony Stewart in the Food City 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, as he finished 31st.
Just nine laps into the 500-lap race around the .533-mile oval, the left-rear tire on Stewart’s No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) deflated. Stewart spun and impacted the SAFER Barrier on the outside of turn one with the left side of his race car. Stewart was OK, but his race car was not.
Damage was extensive, and it took a prolonged stay on pit road to make repairs. But no one on the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 team gave up, and after 15 laps of green-flag racing, Stewart returned to the racetrack in 41st.
Through the attrition of others and Stewart’s dogged determination to make the most of a bad day, he picked up 10 positions to salvage the best result possible.
“I felt the tire going down, and I just could not get down to the inside to get to pit road,” Stewart said. “I was caught up on the top, and I couldn’t hold on to it any longer. It made for a long day, but we got what we could of out it.”
Enjoying a much better outing in the Food City 500 was Stewart’s SHR teammate Ryan Newman, the driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS. Newman finished seventh to score his second top-10 of the season and his 13th top-10 in 23 career Sprint Cup starts at Bristol.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 28th. It was Patrick’s 14th career Sprint Cup start and her second at Bristol.
Kasey Kahne won the Food City 500 to score his 15th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Bristol.
Kyle Busch finished 1.7 seconds behind Kahne in the runner-up spot, while Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Newman, Brian Vickers, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 10 caution periods for 66 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish.
With round four of 36 complete, Newman leads the SHR contingent in the championship point standings. He gained eight spots to climb to 23rd, 79 points behind series leader and reigning Sprint Cup champion Keselowski. Stewart dropped six positions to 24th, 81 points out of first. Patrick picked up two spots to rise to 28th, 97 points behind Keselowski.
Patrick, who is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 12 spots behind Stenhouse, who placed 16th.
Mike Wallace Bristol Post-Race
Mike Wallace and the No. 01 Calhoun’s team entered Bristol with one goal, to finish the race. The team was able to overcome obstacles to accomplish this and more on a sunny afternoon at “The Last Great Colosseum.”
The race weekend began with two practice sessions on Friday. With unusually cold temperatures, the team knew that creating a setup that would be fast for the race would be difficult. The added pressure of qualifying on time for the race served as encouragement for the team to use the practice sessions wisely. At the end of the day, the team finished 36th and 33rd respectively.
Race day began with qualifying, where the veteran Wallace used his experience at Bristol to guarantee the team a starting spot in the race. Rolling off 33rd, the team immediately began to look for the first round of stops to work on the car and plan a race strategy to gain track position. After moving up tothe top 30, Mike began to notice the water temp approaching 260 degrees. As the caution flew, the team immediately removed tape and cleaned the grill, and sent the No. 01 Calhoun’s Chevy back out to battle for position.
Throughout the race, the car remained tight, as CC Mark Browning continued to adjust the setup. As the checked flag flew, the team was relieved to bring home a top 25, with the car in one piece. The run catapulted Wallace up the drivers points standing to 27th, within 5 points of the top 25.
Mike Wallace Quotes: “The race weekend was a bit of a change for me and the team, as we were in a position of having to qualify on time. Due to our bad luck at the start of the season, it put our bunch in an unusual position. The car improved from first to second practice, and we were able to get the first job done. “
“Throughout the race we battled a tight condition, and for a time the engine temperature got hot from the amount of rubber build up. I am proud of our bunch for finishing in the top 25 with a clean car to take back to the shop. It was neat to have a local restaurant, Calhoun’s, on the car, and I would also like to thank Mayor Fox for our recent piece on the impact of NASCAR on the Charlotte area. We will now head back west as a team and look to improve at California.”
JD Motorsports PR
Kligerman posts "gritty" ninth-place finish
Parker Kligerman overcame an early miscue under caution in the early stages of the Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 300 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway to post his third ninth-place finish in as many Nationwide Series starts at "The World's Fastest Half Mile." After restarting 25th on lap 65, a determined Kligerman methodically maneuvered his No. 77 Bandit Chippers Camry back through the field to bring home his second top-10 finish in four races this season.
"Our Bandit Chippers Camry was really fast this weekend -- we had a couple of mishaps that cost us some track position, but we were able to fight back and bring home another top-10 finish," said Kligerman, who picked up his seventh career Nationwide Series top-10 finish across 22 starts. "We had to come from the back of the field early in the race -- we must have passed more cars than anybody out there. I have to thank Bandit Chippers, Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing Engines, Bollé, Butler Seats, Nationwide Insurance and all the fans out there that support us. We just need to keep posting top-10 finishes and we'll start working our way back up the point standings. If we can do that, hopefully we'll be fighting for a championship come Homestead."
After finishing Friday's practice session eighth quick, Kligerman and crew had high hopes of obtaining a top-10 starting spot in qualifying Saturday morning. A loose-handling Bandit Chippers Camry over the two-lap qualifying session relegated the No. 77 squad to a 16th starting position for Saturday's 300-lap event.
Kligerman ran just outside the top 15 in the opening laps, communicating to crew chief Eric Phillips that his Toyota was "loose on entry, tight in the center and the temperature gauge is pegged." The Connecticut native was scored in the 16th position when a one-car spin slowed the field for the second time on lap 60.
Under caution, Kligerman was checking his gauges waiting for NASCAR officials to open pit road. Veteran spotter Earl Barban alerted his young driver that pit road was open as the field worked their way through Turns 3 and 4. With his mind on the gauges, Kligerman immediately came down pit road off Turn 4, when he was supposed to follow the rest of the field through the pits on the backstretch first and then proceed to his stall on the frontstretch.
The mishap placed the No. 77 at the tail end of the lead-lap cars entering pit road and by the time the Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) over-the-wall crew administered a four-tire and fuel stop - with an air pressure adjustment to tighten up the car - Kligerman returned to the track scored in the 25th position for the lap-65 restart.
Just 10 laps later, a determined Kligerman had worked his way back inside the top 20. In the middle stages of the race he communicated to Phillips that the adjustments over the first two stops were positive ones and that his Bandit Chippers Camry was "pretty damn good," as he continued to work his way toward the top 10.
With 100 laps remaining, the talented youngster was scored in the 12th position. His Toyota was fast around the bottom line and although his car was faster than many of the cars inside the top 10, each time he was able to pull even with another competitor it took several laps to complete the pass. After winning a 20-lap side-by-side battle with former Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, he worked his way into the top 10 for the first time on lap 235.
As the race continued under a long green-flag run, Kligerman set his sights on Chris Buescher in the ninth position. He was able to catch Buescher, but just before completing the pass, a one-car spin in Turn 2 brought out the final caution of the race on lap 267. Having already used all of their allotted sets of Goodyear tires, Phillips elected to keep his young driver on the track. Two of the teams inside the top 10 and the rest of the lead-lap cars behind the No. 77 had tires remaining and elected to pit.
When the race went back green for the final time on lap 273, the Bandit Chippers Camry was scored in the seventh position. The cars with fresher tires quickly worked their way around the KBM entry and Kligerman subsided to the 10th position in the closing laps. With the action happening fast and furious over the final lap, Kligerman was able to work his way into the ninth position on the backstretch and raced side-by-side with Justin Allgaier for eighth coming to the stripe, but ended the race with a "gritty" ninth-place performance. His 51 passes under green-flag conditions were the most of any driver during the 300-lap event.
KBM owner Kyle Busch picked up his second Nationwide Series victory in just four races this season in his Joe Gibbs Racing Monster Energy machine. The win was his series-leading 53rd career triumph, his fifth in the Nationwide Series at Bristol and his 107th career triumph across NASCAR's top three divisions. Rookie Kyle Larson finished 0.023 seconds behind Busch in the runner-up position. Brian Vickers, Sam Hornish Jr. and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five finishers.
There were eight caution periods for 54 laps. Five drivers led a lap, exchanging the lead five times. Eleven drivers failed to finish the race.
Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne used a 12th-place finish in Saturday’s 300-lap Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway to climb one more spot to seventh in the NASCAR Nationwide Series point standings.
Bayne’s No. 6 Ecoboost Ford Mustang led early in the race, but the car’s handling tightened throughout the event, with the team settling for the 12th-place finish.
“They’re going to go back and check the car and see if there was one little thing that was off or what it was because it just didn’t feel like our race car,” said Bayne. “So we’ve got to go work on that.”
An early decision to take just two tires during the second caution of the day helped the No.6 team get to the front. The six-second pit stop pushed the Ford Ecoboost car from eighth place into first. Bayne held the spot for more than a dozen laps before getting hung up in traffic as he lapped slower cars in the field. From there, he fought throughout the day to maintain his position in the top ten and dropped just a couple spots in the end.
“This is the first one where we’ve actually struggled,” said Bayne. “Even Daytona... we sat on the pole and ran up front, but just had a part break, but here, this was the first one where the car was ‘off’ a little bit and we could never fix it. It’s frustrating, but we’ll go to California and hopefully be fast there.”
Maintaining a respectable spot on the track, and keeping the car in tact at “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” earned Bayne and the No.6 team another 33 points. His steady progress through the 2013 season helped him climb from eighth in the standings, up to seventh; 39 points behind the leader.
Bayne will roll into Fontana, Calif. next Saturday with Cargill returning as his primary sponsor for the Royal Purple 300. Bayne has five career starts at California Speedway, with a high finish of sixth in 2011.
The sign reads, ‘Welcome To The Last Great Colosseum’ at the tunnel entrance of Bristol Motor Speedway.
Dylan Kwasniewski, 17, bested the legendary .533-mile high-banked oval and the other 35 competitors on Saturday to win the DRIVE4COPD 125 in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship season opener.
Kwasniewski, the reigning K&N Pro Series West champion out of Las Vegas, Nev., took the lead on Lap 30 after pole sitter and race leader Michael McGuire got tangled up with lapped traffic under caution. Kwasniewski – behind the wheel of his No. 98 Royal Purple/Rockstar Energy Drink Chevrolet – was able to hold off Brett Moffitt on seven restarts to pick up his first East victory in his fifth series outing.
Moffitt was followed by Ryan Gifford – racing out of the Rev Racing stable – in third. McGuire rebounded from the early incident to finish fourth while CJ Faison came home in the fifth position.
Gray Gaulding, Eddie MacDonald, Jimmy Weller, Ben Rhodes and Ben Kennedy rounded out the top 10.
Kwasniewski, who led a race-high 96 laps, is competing for a K&N East championship in 2013 with Turner Scott Motorsports in its first full season of competition. It’s his sixth overall K&N Pro Series triumph in 29 career starts.
The race was slowed due to caution eight times for a total of 37 laps and there was just one lead change.
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will return to action on Saturday, March 23 for the Kevin Whitaker Chevrolet 125 presented by G-Clean at Greenville (S.C) Pickens Speedway.
DRIVE4COPD 125 RESULTS
(Start position in parentheses)
1. (5) Dylan Kwasniewski, Las Vegas, NV, Chevrolet, 125 laps, 58.258 mph.
2. (6) Brett Moffitt, Grimes, Iowa, Toyota, 125.
3. (8) Ryan Gifford, Winchester, TN, Toyota, 125.
4. (1) Michael McGuire, Vinton, Va., Toyota, 125.
5. (18) CJ Faison, Seaford, Del., Chevrolet, 125.
6. (13) Gray Gaulding, Colonial Heights, Va., Toyota, 125.
7. (30) Eddie MacDonald, Rowley, MA, Toyota, 125.
8. (10) Jimmy Weller, Hubbard, OH, Toyota, 125.
9. (21) Ben Rhodes, Louisville, KY, Chevrolet, 125.
10. (3) Ben Kennedy, Daytona Beach, FL, Chevrolet, 125.
11. (29) Kenzie Ruston, El Reno, OK, Chevrolet, 125.
12. (15) Austin Wayne Self, Austin, Texas, Dodge, 125.
13. (36) Cale Conley, Vienna, WV, Toyota, 125.
14. (4) Jesse Little, Sherrils Ford, N.C., Chevrolet, 125.
15. (20) Steven Legendre, Danville, Vt., Chevrolet, 125.
16. (23) Austin Hill, Winston, Ga., Toyota, 125.
17. (16) Preston Peltier, Frazier Park, CA, Toyota, 125.
18. (33) Brandon Gdovic, Yorktown, VA, Toyota, 125.
19. (14) Tyler Reddick, Corning, Calif., Dodge, 125.
20. (28) Scott Heckert, Ridgefield, CT, Chevrolet, 125.
21. (7) Bryan Ortiz, Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Toyota, 125.
22. (31) Martin Roy, Napierville, Quebec, Canada, Chevrolet, 124.
23. (26) Austin Dyne, Malibu, Calif., Chevrolet, 124.
24. (17) Cole Custer, Ladera Ranch, CA, Chevrolet, 121.
25. (32) Enrique Contreras, III, Mexico City, Mexico, Toyota, 121.
26. (24) Daniel Suarez, Monterrey, Mexico, Toyota, 119.
27. (35) Ray Courtemanche Jr., Jr., Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Toyota, 110.
28. (19) Justin Boston, Sparks, MD, Toyota, 106, accident.
29. (25) Mackena Bell, Carson City, Nev., Toyota, 106.
30. (34) Brandon Glover, Cuba, NY, Dodge, 86, accident.
31. (11) Brandon Jones, Atlanta, Ga., Chevrolet, 85, electrical.
32. (9) Sam Hunt, Midlothian, VA, Toyota, 84, accident.
33. (22) Nate Caruth, Ames, IA, Dodge, 81.
34. (12) Chad Finchum, Knoxville, TN, Chevrolet, 30, accident.
35. (2) Dylan Presnell, Sevierville, TN, Toyota, 20, engine.
36. (27) Blake Jones, Sevierville, TN, Chevrolet, 5, engine.
Kyle Larson and the No. 32 Turner Scott Motorsports team came to Thunder Valley on Saturday for the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) Jeff Foxworthy's Grit Chips 300 hoping to come away with a clean finish in their Cottonelle Camaro after a tough start to the 2012 season. Steering clear of any trouble and methodically picking his way through the field, Larson found himself in striking distance on the final lap to battle for the win. Going door-to-door as he crossed the stripe under the checkered flag, Larson came away with runner-up honors in the second-closest NNS finish in history at Bristol.
Reporting to crew chief Trent Owens throughout both practice sessions that he was struggling to turn through the center of the corners and exit, Larson and the Cottonelle team put their heads together to find a better setup prior to qualifying on Saturday. Accomplishing just that, Larson laid down a lap good enough for the 12th starting position and was optimistic all of the hard work his Turner Scott Motorsports team had put in would pay off during the main event that afternoon.
Taking advantage of the outside line that seemed to work well with the setup under the Cottonelle Camaro, Larson took the green flag and rode around the top side of the half-mile bullring, breaking into the top-10 after 50 laps. Larson radioed to his crew that his No. 32 machine was much better than in practice and he was happy with how it handled in traffic. After his first pit stop, under the second caution of the day on lap 61, Larson was silent over the radio, other than to say he was still pleased with his Camaro, as he avoided on-track incidents that brought out the next five cautions.
Charging his way into the top-five on the seventh restart with 100 laps to go, Larson showed the perfect balance of patience and aggression while sorting his way through heavy traffic and closing the gap on the leaders. The eighth and final caution of the day left Owens with a choice to bring the No. 32 Camaro down pit road for fresh tires or keep Larson on the track. After the rookie driver told his crew the balance was perfect and he was very pleased with the car, Owens opted to keep him out on the track to battle for the victory. Following the restart, Larson had 27 laps to track down the leader and immediately went to work, getting another great restart and pushing his way to the second position. He chased down first place until the final lap when he caught Kyle Busch in the final turn and went to the high side, rubbing fenders to take the checkered flag two one-hundredths of a second away from the victory.
"I have to thank this Turner Scott Motorsports team for working as hard as they did to make this Cottonelle Camaro so fast today and for giving me the opportunity to battle for the win on the final lap," said Larson. "Bristol is really a fun place to race because there are so many different grooves you can run. I'm just so happy for this entire team to finally get a good finish to show for all of the hard work they put into these Chevy Camaros."
After two weeks of mechanical failures that sent Eric McClure on a downward slide in the NASCAR Owner standings, he headed to his hometown track of Bristol Motor Speedway looking for redemption. Despite a bad start to the weekend that forced the Hefty®/Reynolds® team to change the entire set-up of the NO. 14 Camry prior to qualifying, the 34-year-old driver was able to overcome his 24thstarting position to finish the Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300 as follows:
21st-Eric McClure, No. 14 Hefty®/Reynolds® Toyota Camry
Starting the 300-lap race from the 24th position, McClure quickly advanced one position before sliding back to the 25th spot on lap 25 where he remained until the second caution flag flew on lap 59. The team used this opportunity to bring the No. 14 Camry to pit road for four scuffed tires, fuel, an air-pressure and track-bar adjustments to help pacify the car’s handling. McClure advanced three positions in the running order because of the quick service.
On the restart, several cars in front of McClure began stacking up and as a result, the Virginia driver slipped one position where he remained until the third caution flag waved on lap 104. Unable to take the wave around during this period, coupled with a car that was tight in the center of the turns, the team decided to once again bring the orange and blue Camry to pit road for four tires, fuel, air-pressure and track-bar adjustments in hopes of helping the car turn better in the center of the turns. When the race resumed on lap 117, McClure was scored in the 23rd position where he remained for the next 30 laps.
A multicar accident on lap 160 allowed McClure to remain on track while the leaders visited pit road to receive the wave around, which not only placed him one lap down to the race leader, but also in the 22nd position when the race resumed on lap 171.
Another caution on lap 198 allowed McClure to again bring his car to pit road for tires, fuel, and adjustments. During the pit stop, the team noticed the heim joint of the sway bar was broken. Since this would only affect the car’s drivability, the decision was made not to inform the driver, as he was still running competitive lap times.
Although the car’s handling became freer with each lap, McClure was still able to advance one position in the running to finish the Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300 in the 21st position. This marks a career-best finish for the hometown driver at the “World’s Fastest Half Mile.”
Driver, Eric McClure Quotes: Driver, Eric McClure Quotes: “The weekend was definitely interesting. We were not good in practice on Friday so the guys changed just about everything on the car prior to qualifying. The changes definitely helped. We had a decent car during the race but with about 100 laps to go, the handling just went away suddenly. After the race that the team informed me that the sway bar arm had broken. I guess I’m just glad to come out of Bristol with the car in one piece and I’m thankful we were able to regain some of the points we lost over the past two weeks."
RCR Post Race Report -- NNS Bristol Motor Speedway
- Richard Childress Racing teammates finished fifth (Kevin Harvick), 10th (Brian Scott) and 11th (Austin Dillon).
- Scott is third in the Nationwide Series driver championship point standings, trailing leader Sam Hornish, Jr. by 25 markers, while Dillon ranks sixth, 34 points back.
- The No. 2 Chevrolet team ranks fourth in the Nationwide Series owner championship point standings, with the No. 3 team seventh in the standings and the No. 33 team eighth.
- According to NASCAR's Loop Data Statistics, Harvick was the Fastest Driver Early in a Run, maintained the second-best average running position (3.410), ranked second in the Closers category and had the second-best Driver Rating (120.4).
- Combined, RCR drivers posted the Fastest Laps Run for 44 circuits with Harvick (33 laps), Scott (6) and Dillon (5).
- Scott ranked second in Quality Passes with 34.
- Scott earned his third consecutive top-10 finish of the 2013 Nationwide Series season and currently leads all drivers in NASCAR with longest streak of top-10 finishes (6).
- Kyle Busch earned his second victory of the 2013 Nationwide Series season and was followed to the finish line by Kyle Larson, Brian Vickers, Hornish and Harvick.
- The next Nationwide Series race is the Royal Purple 300 at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday, March 23. The fifth race of the 2013 season is scheduled to be televised live on ESPN beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern Time and broadcast live on the Motor Racing Network and Sirius XM NASCAR Satellite Radio.
Brian Scott Earns Second Career Bristol Motor Speedway Top-10 Finish
Start - 8 Finish - 10 Laps Led - 0 Points - 3
BRIAN SCOTT QUOTE:
"We had a good car and track position in the end when we needed it. We had every possibility of coming home with a top-five-finish, just got into the wall after making contact with one of our teammates. After that we were just a little too tight, but it's another top-10 and it's Bristol (Motor Speedway) where anything could happen. I'll take a top-10 out of Bristol any day. I'm really excited about California (Auto Club Speedway) next week. I feel like it's a great track, we'll go there and get the top-five that eluded us today."
Dillon Salvages 11th-Place Finish at Bristol Motor Speedway
Austin Dillon drove Richard Childress Racing's No. 3 AdvoCare Chevrolet to an 11th-place finish in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon despite incurring damage to his Chevrolet during a mid-race incident. Dillon started the 300-lap affair from the second position and looked strong from the start of the race, settling into the top-five despite a tight-handling condition on exit to the corners. He dropped to 10th in the running order following a lap-60 pit stop under caution for left-side tires and a chassis adjustment, but quickly raced his way forward in the field. The Welcome, N.C. driver was in the seventh spot when a multi-car incident blocked the half-mile track in front of him, although he tried to brake to avoid the melee, Dillon made contact with another car, necessitating multiple trips down pit road so that the RCR team could make repairs to the No. 3 Chevrolet. Dillon fell one lap down to the race leader in the process, but gained his lap back by earning the Lucky Dog when the caution flag was displayed on lap 177. Green flag racing resumed on lap 183 with Dillon in the 17th position. The team spent the remainder of the race working for position, with Dillon ultimately earning an 11th-place finish.
Start - 2 Finish - 11 Laps Led - 0 Points - 6
Harvick Earns Fifth-Place Finish in NASCAR Nationwide Series
at Bristol Motor Speedway
Kevin Harvick and the No. 33 Armour Vienna Sausages team collected a fifth-place finish in the 300-lap NASCAR Nationwide Series event at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon. The Bakersfield, Calif., native took the green flag from the seventh spot and quickly began a charge toward the front of the field, settling into second on lap 33. Harvick reported a loose-handling condition during the early stages of the race, but maintained a position in the top five. As the event progressed, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular informed his team that the car's handling had switched from loose to tight, as he continued to run solid lap times, taking over the top spot on lap 196. Persistent handling issues caused Harvick to relinquish the lead on lap 237. The No. 33 Richard Childress Racing team used the final caution period to make one final attempt at improving the car's handling, taking four fresh tires and adding fuel. Harvick lined up eighth for the final restart and picked up three positions before the checkered flag waved, capturing a fifth-place finish.
Start - 7 Finish - 5 Laps Led - 43 Owner Points - 8
KEVIN HARVICK QUOTE:
"We just got too tight at the end and weren't able to get back out front. The Armour Vienna Sausages Chevrolet was fast today, but we lost the handling at the end. It was a fun race and the team worked hard, but we came here to win and we just couldn't get it done today."
Kyle Busch and Monster Energy Winners Again
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch brought the No. 54 Monster Energy program to victory lane Saturday, for the team’s second win across four weeks this race season. The win gives Busch his 53rd career visit to the checkered flag podium in 248 starts, a series record. Taking home the trophy Busch captured his fifth victory and 11th top-five finish in 18 NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) starts at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, tying him for the most NNS series triumphs in track history.
During initial on-track activity at “The World’s Fastest Half Mile,” it was evident that Busch would fight a tight-handling car. Through two practice sessions Friday, the 27-year-old Busch paced the field 5th and 12th fastest, trying different setups to best balance the car on the fast .533-mile oval.
Race day morning the team made further notes of improvement for race trim, when Busch earned a 13th-place starting spot for the Jeff Foxworthy’s Grit Chips 300.
Upon green flag, Busch wasted no time moving to the front of the field, driving to within the top-10 by lap nine, the top five by lap 33, all while experiencing the same tight condition he felt during earlier practice sessions. The team made two pit stops during the course of the event, changing tires, taking on fuel and making one wedge adjustment. Busch felt the second stop was productive, relaying back to crew chief Adam Stevens, “that stop gave the tires a little more grip.”
On lap 76 of the 300-lap event, Busch secured the lead and maintained it until almost 100 laps later when, the team dropped to second coming off pit road after a pit stop sequence. Over the next third of the race, Busch showcased his talent fighting and winning close battles on track with other veterans, tracking down and passing drivers Kevin Harvick, Regan Smith and Brad Keselowski. The exchange with Harvick in the No. 33 car lasted several laps and was hard-fought, in the end Busch prevailed.
The final battle came in the end of the race, when rookie Kyle Larson (Chevrolet) caught Busch and became a threat during the waning laps of the event. In the end, Larson was unable to make a last push for the lead over the 12-time Bristol race winner, however, showed his talent giving Busch a close run for the money. The Monster Energy driver took the checkered flag first, beating Larson in close fashion, by 0.23 seconds, the second closest finish in Nationwide Series history at Bristol.
The NASCAR veteran once again celebrated taking the checkered flag with a spectacular smoke show. When interviewed post-race, the excited driver described, “This was a hard fought race today. I wasn’t sure that we were going to get it there for a little while racing the 33 (Kevin Harvick) – he drove away from me. I just kept digging in and put my head to it and just kept trying to run the best line that I could.”
Busch continued, “This year driving JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars on Saturday and Sunday, I think that’s a benefit. Of course having JGR engines with Mark Cronquist (JGR engine builder) in the Nationwide Series is great and having Adam (Stevens) to work with as a crew chief – he’s really good. All in all though, I can’t say enough about this whole team – everybody on this Monster Energy Toyota Camry program.”
The seasoned Bristol lap leader recorded a race high 156 of 300 laps led over two segments. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Brian Vickers and Elliott Sadler finished 3rd and 36th respectively. Larson, Vickers, Sam Hornish Jr. and Harvick completed the top-five finishers. There were eight caution periods for 54 laps of the race along with five lead changes across five drivers.
The No. 54 Monster Energy team jumps from fifth to second in the Owner’s Point standings, now only 15 points from the lead.
The next event on the NNS schedule is the Royal Purple 300 from Auto Club Speedway in Fontana (Ca.) with the race television broadcast starting at 4:30 p.m. EST on ESPN. Busch will make his fifth start of the season behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.