It became evident in the early stages of Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Coca-Cola 250 at Talladega Superspeedway that the race was going to follow suit with recent Sprint Cup Series events at the 2.66-mile Tri-oval and the best pair was going to win.
The high-speed game of poker appeared to be headed for a showdown between three Truck Series aces and a wildcard as the 94-lap race approached the final laps. Kyle Busch was paired with Austin Dillon while Ron Hornaday Jr. was paired with teammate Mike Wallace, who was making his first start in the series since 2009. The two tandems had separated themselves from the rest of the field and were swapping the lead every few laps until a late caution set up a green-white-checkered finish.
Dillon, who was scored in the third position, failed to maintain minimum speed under caution and was forced to restart the race from the 18th position. Busch scrambled to find a new drafting partner and chose to align himself with fellow Toyota driver Timothy Peters.
As the field went back green for the final time, Peters ran out of gas and Busch, who once again found himself without a partner, saw his No. 18 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra get shuffled from the third position all the way outside of the top 10. On the final lap, Busch connected with Max Papis and the Italian pushed the Las Vegas native back into the top 10 as the field reached the start-finish line for the final time.
"Our partner ran out of gas on the final restart -- everybody else already had their plan in place, so we got left out," said Busch, who was making his 100th career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start. "We sustained some damage early in the race, but the Kyle Busch Motorsports crew did a great job of making repairs under caution and our Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra was running like new. We put ourselves in a position to compete for the win, unfortunately things didn't play out the way we needed them to at the end of the race."
Busch, the two-time defending winner of the race, started from the 17th position. After things got bottled up on the initial restart, he communicated to crew chief Eric Phillips that he believed his No. 18 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra had made contact with another truck and already suffered damage to the grill.
Spotter Eddie D'Hondt examined the damage from atop the spotter's stand and communicated to Busch that the damage appeared to be minimal. The No. 18 Tundra had made its way up to the 14th position when it was involved in a multi-truck accident on lap 13.
With a flat left front tire and crinkled fender, the 26-year-old immediately brought his Tundra down pit road under caution, where the KBM over-the-wall crew went to work repairing the damage. After multiple visits to pit road, the repairs allowed Busch was to drive the truck without the tire rubbing the fender but he reported that the steering was slightly off.
The No. 18 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra was scored in the 27th position when the race restarted on lap 18. Busch communicated to the crew that the truck was "a little darty but not terrible" as he made his way up to the 19th spot on lap 30. As the driver was making progress on the track, the KBM crew was making progress in their pit stall -- formulating a plan to make additional repairs to the truck and fabricating metal pieces to strengthen both the fender and the crush panel.
A three-truck incident on lap 36 slowed the field for the third time. With severe damage to two of the trucks involved, the caution period lasted five laps and gave the KBM crew ample time to make repairs to the No. 18 Tundra. The crew used four pit stops over five caution laps to adjust the tow of the truck and make repairs to the left front fender and crush panel with a combination of sheet metal and bearbond.
Busch was scored in the 26th position when the race restarted on lap 42. When the next caution of the race occurred on lap 48, he reported that the steering on his truck was much improved and he was ready to make his way to the front of the field. When pit road opened, he brought the No. 18 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Tundra down pit road for four fresh tires and a full tank of fuel. Busch returned to the track scored in the 17th position.
Shortly after the race restarted, Busch connected with his rookie teammate Josh Richards and the two began working their way toward the front of the back. With the owner pushing his No. 51 Joy Mining Machinery Toyota -- and coaching his young driver of the radio at the same time -- the two trucks made a strong run along the outside lane of the track. On lap 56, Busch had pushed his teammate all the way up to the third position. The two KBM trucks broke away from the pack and began to pursue the two Kevin Harvick Inc. trucks that were pacing the field.
Fluid on the track brought out the fourth caution of the race on lap 59. Busch brought his Tundra down pit road for a fuel-only stop and returned to the track scored in the fourth position. Richards, who made a two-tire stop, was scored in the 11th spot when the race restarted.
With Richards starting further back in the pack, Busch was forced to find another partner to tandem draft with, as the "Two-Truck Tango" had proven to be the fastest way around the famed Superspeedway. He quickly teamed up with Dillon and pushed the young driver to the top spot on lap 65. With Busch the pusher and Dillon the pushee, the tandem swapped the lead with Wallace and Hornaday Jr. several times. The four trucks distanced themselves from the rest of the field as the race proceeded into the final laps.
Wallace won his fifth career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race with the help of his teammate, Hornaday Jr., who finished a close second. James Buescher finished third, Ricky Carmichael fourth and Jason White fifth. Todd Bodine, Dillon, Gaughan, Busch and Papis rounded out the top-10 finishers.
Richards was running seventh when the field took the white flag, but like Busch, found himself without a partner and was shuffled back on the final lap. The two-time defending World of Outlaws Late Model champion posted a career-best 13th-place finish in the KBM No. 51 Joy Mining Machinery Tundra.
There were six caution periods for 27 laps, with 12 drivers failing to finish the 94-lap race.
The No. 18 Tundra remains second in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owners' point standings. The team trails KHI's No. 2 team by 81 points with three races remaining on the 2011 schedule.