After leading twice for 55 laps and running in the top-10 for much of Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 NACAR Sprint Cup Series race at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, a pair of late-race spins sidelined Kyle Busch and his No. 18 M&M’s team early, resulting in a disappointing 32nd-place finish.
For the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), it was yet another heartbreaking ending at the 1.5-mile track that he considers to be his favorite on the Sprint Cup circuit. In 15 point-paying races at Charlotte, Busch has challenged for the win on multiple occasions and has come agonizingly close to winning, but has never celebrated in victory lane.
Unfortunately for Busch, a win wasn’t in the cards for his No. 18 team again on this Sunday night. The 32nd-place finish also snapped Busch’s streak of seven consecutive top-10 finishes at Charlotte, dating back to October 2007.
“The race was 600 miles and it felt like 800,” said crew chief Dave Rogers. “Clean air meant so much tonight. We started 21st and I thought Kyle did a great job of methodically working his way up to the front. We finally got up front and we got our car back from practice – in practice this M&M’s Camry was really fast – but back there in dirty air, we couldn’t get out of our own way.
“Then pit strategy – we got caught on fuel windows there. We got in a situation where us and the guys we were racing with could make it on one more stop when we pitted when we did. Then we gave up all that track position and got in that dirty air. Honestly, Kyle was just trying to make something out of nothing. None of the cars handled well back there. Clean air means everything and Kyle was trying to make something out of nothing and it got away from him. We ended our day a little early.”
With Busch starting deep in the field in 21st place for Sunday’s race, it would take patience on the racetrack along with solid work in the pits to help get Busch and his M&M’s Camry out front.
Busch struggled early with the handling of his racecar, and complained about the difficulty he had in passing other cars on the track. But at each opportunity, Rogers and crew worked on the M&M’s machine, making a variety of tire air pressure, wedge and track bar adjustments in hopes of finding the right combination to help Busch in NASCAR’s longest race.
By lap 80, he was in the top-10, which is where he ran for much of the night. Slowly and steadily, Busch maneuvered his way to the front of the field.
He took the lead for the first time at lap 245 following a restart. Once in clean air, Busch’s M&M’s Camry took off without any real challengers. Although Busch said his car was still a little tight in the center of the corner and a little loose on exit, it was apparent that the No. 18 would be one of the cars to contend for the win if it could stay up front.
At lap 276, Busch gave up the top spot to pit under green for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. He moved back into the lead just eight laps later.
But a rash of caution flags forced the team to give up the lead and pit under yellow at lap 302 so that the No. 18 M&M’s car could stay on the same pit cycle as many of the cars it had been racing with among the top-10. Under the caution, Busch took right-side tires, fuel and the team made a track bar adjustment. The varying pit strategies forced Busch to restart in 19th place at lap 310. Unfortunately, Busch found himself back in the same frustrating spot he was earlier in the race. Not only did he have difficulty passing other cars, but his No. 18 machine just didn’t perform the same in traffic as it had at the front of the field.
On lap 320, his No. 18 M&M’s Camry got loose coming out of turn four and he spun. The car lazily slid through the infield grass, which brought out the caution flag. Busch was able to get the car pointed in the right direction without hitting anything. He came to pit road for four fresh tires and fuel, and the team opted to reverse the previous track bar adjustment.
Busch returned to the track in 23rd place for the restart at lap 323. Although he was able to gain a few quick spots on the restart, it was only a handful of laps before he once again told his crew that he simply couldn’t pass in traffic.
Despite his frustrations, Busch remained tenacious behind the wheel. Unfortunately, he was involved in another accident in turn two at lap 344 where he brushed the wall and spun, causing major damage to the No. 18 M&M’s machine.
He initially brought his car down pit road, but when the team was able to assess the damage up close, they sent Busch to the garage for further repairs. The team attempted to repair the car and get Busch back on track, but the damage was too great to be fixed with less than 60 laps remaining.
Busch ended the night in 32nd place.
“He was pushing it and running right on the edge trying to get it,” Rogers said. “The ‘17’ car (Matt Kenseth) was the best car all day on that pit stop. He was the only car that could make it up through traffic. We knew we left pit road right behind him and Kyle was trying to stay with him. We didn’t quite have the car that he had. Kyle just tried to do the impossible and that’s why we love him.
“We know he gives us 100 percent and he doesn’t ever leave anything on the table. Tonight he just tried to take a little bit too much and it got away from him. That’s part of racing. That’s why we love Kyle Busch – he only knows one speed – full throttle.”
TSC/Kyle Busch PR