The Monster Energy team came into Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International Saturday hopeful to earn veteran driver Kyle Busch his first trip to victory lane at the 2.45-mile road course in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. What they ended up with was an unexpected lap-one accident and a day of adversity that placed them with a 24th-finishing position.
The day started well with a front-row qualifying effort made when Busch recorded a 71.837 second lap at 122.778 mph placing the team in the second starting spot for the afternoon Zippo 200 event. Upon green-flag start, on lap one, in turn one, Busch made what he called a ‘crossover-move’ and the car slipped out from under him, causing the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry to spin. Before the oncoming field could slow down quick enough, Busch took a hard hit from the No. 01 car, which caused the majority of damage to the front of the black machine. The Joe Gibbs Racing team was forced to immediately visit the garage area for repairs.
While the crew feverishly worked to fix what they could on the front and rear of their injured Camry, the field executed a yellow-caution period from Busch’s wreck, which bought the No. 54 team some time. They completed as much work as possible, replacing the front suspension, fixing damage to the left rear and removing the car hood, to return their talented driver back to the track, but not before going seven laps down to the field.
Just after the Monster Energy team returned to the race, a full-course yellow appeared on lap 17. Busch reported to the crew, “If I had a little bit better aero, I’d be better. I just fried the nose.” You could hear the disappointment at what had transpired on lap one. Team crew chief Adam Stevens replied, “There is a lot more racing to do still this season, more races to win.” The team did not visit pit road under this caution period and restarted the race at lap 20 in the 32nd spot, six laps down.
At this point Busch remained focused on catching other lap-down cars, and worked his way to 31st. Then at lap 25 he visited pit road for the next field caution, to replace tires and take on fuel. The crew double-checked damaged areas. What was normally a cool matte black body with bright green Monster Energy colors looked quite different this race — the engine now exposed, the front sheet metal removed and black bondo tape in several areas of repair. Although the Camry machine didn’t look pretty, the team was pleasantly surprised at how fast Busch was still able to drive her. The Toyota was showing lap times competitive with the top-25 contenders, only two seconds off the fastest laps recorded in the field. This was fast enough that NASCAR would allow the No. 54 to continue the race.
At lap 30 of the 82-circuit event, Busch restarted 30th, then worked his way to 29th by lap 42 when another event caution waved. The team would visit pit road again for tires and gas, still scored six-laps down to the field which restarted on lap 46. At lap 48 Busch had secured another position to 28th, then to 27th at lap 55. Because Busch’s car still carried good speed, he was able to maneuver through the field without too much trouble.
The team caught a break at lap 57, under the fifth full-course caution, when Busch now the first car not on the lead lap, earned the “lucky dog” pass. This NASCAR rule allows a competitor to pit after the lead-lap cars and then earn one lap back in their position, which improved Busch’s standing to five laps down, now in 27th. With 21 laps remaining in the final portion of the race, Busch worked his way through traffic, while other competitors experienced issues that forced them out of the race, allowing the No. 54 machine to complete the course in the 24th spot.
While it was a discouraging race start and finish, the No. 54 Monster Energy team showed their championship-searching form by fixing their damaged Camry and returning Busch to the racetrack quickly so that he could finish the race. The car owned by J.D. Gibbs maintains first place in the Owner’s Point standings, now leading the No. 22 Roger Penske Ford by 5 points.
Keselowski and the No. 22 Ford won the event, followed by Sam Hornish Jr., Brian Vickers, Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler. There were five caution periods for 15 laps of the race along with seven lead changes across six drivers.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series competes again on August 17 in the Inaugural Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Mansfield, with television broadcast starting at 2p.m. ET on ESPN. Owen Kelly will make his 2nd start of the year behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.
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