M&M’s Driver Finishes Fifth in Night Race
Many times this season Kyle Busch has entered a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race with high hopes, only to have bad luck knock him from contention. It was the same story but with a different ending in the Bank of America 500 Saturday night at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Driving the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), Busch placed fifth to score his ninth top-five finish of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
After starting eighth Saturday night, Busch showed strength early when his M&M’s Toyota Camry climbed into the top-five by lap 22, with the only handling issue early being a tight condition in the middle of the turns. The No. 18 M&M’s team took advantage of the third caution of the race by coming to pit road to remove a spring rubber, make a track-bar adjustment, change four tires and add fuel. The team was one of only a handful to make a four-tire stop, which resulted in Busch restarting the race from 13th place. It was also the only time during the race Busch ran outside the top-10.
When green-flag racing resumed, Busch quickly went to work and climbed to eighth place by lap 70. The longer the run went, the tighter the handling on the M&M’S car became. So the team worked on the car’s handling during a round of green-flag pit stops on lap 81, taking another stab at chassis and air pressure adjustments. Busch returned to the track and moved back into the top-five on lap 100.
Throughout the course of the race, the team tried a combination of minor adjustments to make the M&M’s car handle more consistently. While the car’s handling may not have been perfect, it still allowed Busch to compete in the top-five during the second half of the race. Busch moved into second place for the restart after the fifth caution on lap 224.
It would wind up being the final caution of the race. But as the laps wound down, it became evident that the finale would be determined by fuel mileage. A handful of teams gambled with their final pit stop, electing to stretch their fuel to try and make it to the end of the race with just one stop. The M&M’s team was not in a position to stretch its fuel, so Busch raced hard to the end, making a green-flag pit stop for minor adjustments on lap 268. Busch reclaimed second place once stops cycled through and gave up the position for one last stop for two tires and fuel on lap 309. He returned to the track in eighth place and picked up three positions during the final 25 laps of the race to finish fifth.
“Darn fuel mileage played against us again, but it’s good for the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and those guys,” Busch said. “They come home second. The M&M’s Camry was fast, and the guys worked hard all weekend. I really can’t say enough about them, but it just wasn’t there for us at the end with the strategy and everything. We came home OK.”
Busch’s JGR companions – Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry, and Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry – finished second and ninth, respectively.
Clint Bowyer won the Charlotte 500 to score his eighth career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his first at Charlotte.
Hamlin finished .417 of a second behind Bowyer in the runner-up spot, while Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Busch rounded out the top-five. Mark Martin, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 23 laps, with nine drivers failing to finish the 334-lap race.
Hamlin is representing JGR in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, and he left Charlotte holding on to third place in the standings with 2,199 points, 15 points behind Chase leader Keselowski.
Busch maintained 13th in the standings with 951 points, 62 ahead of 14th-place Ryan Newman. Logano gained a position in the points to 17th place with 832 points, 119 points behind Busch in 13th. Since they are not Chase participants, Busch and Logano can finish no higher than 13th.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Hollywood Casino 400 on Oct. 21 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
Source: Joe Gibbs Racing