For Kyle Busch and the entire No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry team, Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon was the kind of day where championship teams are made.
Busch and his team overcame a lap-187 accident that caused significant damage to the No. 18 M&M’s Camry. Despite the heavy damage, the team was able to stay on the lead lap and make repairs during several trips to pit road over the course of the final 100 laps. The effort paid off: After Busch pitted for fresh tires with nine laps to go, he vaulted from 20th to eighth over the final seven laps and two more restarts to bring his team back from what could have been a tough day for his 2014 Sprint Cup championship hopes.
“We kept working on our M&M’s Camry, kept fighting and put fresh tires on it every chance we could get, and we came back for a really good finish all things considered – and how bad it could have been,” said Busch, who earned his 11th top-10 finish of the season. “That’s a day that would do you good in the old format, just being able to salvage on and get a good day to keep going throughout and not have a bad day. It still shows what our team is made of, so I’m proud of the effort.”
Busch, who started fifth, kept himself within the top-10 for the first 185 laps of the 300-lap scheduled distance. But while running seventh shortly after a restart on lap 187, trouble struck Busch and the M&M’s team. While battling for position, fellow Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver Matt Kenseth slowed up through turn two, forcing Busch to get on the brakes hard and contact not only the rear bumper of Kenseth’s machine but the car of Kasey Kahne, who made contact from the rear.
The accident caused significant damage to the M&M’s Toyota, but Busch and the No. 18 team never gave up. The heavily damaged and very tight-handling racecar came in for multiple pit stops during a spree of cautions that plagued the last 100 laps of the race. Eventually Busch moved all the way up to 15th by lap 260. However, the call of the race came by crew chief Dave Rogers under the second-to-last caution of the race.
Rogers brought Busch down pit road for four tires and fuel on lap 293 and sent the No. 18 back out in 20th to restart the race on lap 296. Busch muscled his way through the field on the restart, making impressive three- and four-wide passes for position. When the caution waved for the final time on lap 297, the Las Vegas native had moved up to 12th. On the final green-white-checkered two-lap shootout to finish the race, Busch again made several bold moves to pick off four more positions, achieving an impressive and unlikely comeback on a day that could have hurt the team’s championship hopes. Busch gained two spots in the standings and sits in prime position to transfer to the Contender round following the first cutoff following next week’s third race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
“I just hate that we got messed up there midrace,” said Busch, who brought home his 10th top-10 finish in 20 Sprint Cup starts at New Hampshire. “Kenseth was trying to race with the guy in front of him to pass him, I think it was (Jamie) McMurray, and got loose. I checked up, but not quick enough. I hit him, but then the guy behind me – I think it was Kasey (Kahne) – he just drove right through me. He couldn’t see what was going on in front of me – the spoilers on these cars you can’t see. All in all, this is probably our best round considering the three tracks we’re running at are really good for us. We’ll just keep fighting, keep going next week at Dover.”
Busch’s JGR companions – Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry – finished 21st and 37th, respectively.