Busch and Gilliland Combine for 24th-Place Effort at Fontana Busch Forced to Vacate M&M& ...
Busch and Gilliland Combine for 24th-Place Effort at Fontana
Busch Forced to Vacate M&M’s Toyota on Lap 61 Because of Illness
David Gilliland replaced an ailing Kyle Busch early in Sunday's Pepsi 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., where the duo combined to post a 24th-place finish.
Busch, the regular driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), battled illness throughout the weekend and was forced to vacate his seat to David Gilliland on lap 61, who was on standby after retiring his No. 71 Chevrolet 13 laps into the 250-lap race. Busch also required a relief driver in the previous day's NASCAR Nationwide Series race, as JGR teammate Denny Hamlin replaced Busch during the race's first caution period.
"I was not feeling well and I was coughing real bad out there," said Busch shortly after climbing from his racecar. "I'm going to go lay down for a little bit and see if I can't get some fluids in me at the infield care center and try to get better. We've been fighting it for several days. The car was decent, so I'm real proud of the effort by these guys on this M&M's team. I appreciate them sticking behind me. I'm sorry I had to get out."
While he qualified in the 19th spot, Busch was forced to start at the rear of field because of an engine change prior to Friday's qualifying session. Despite feeling extremely ill inside the racecar, Busch moved up quickly from the drop of the green flag, and was in 22nd-place by just the 23rd lap.
The Las Vegas native patiently waited for the first caution period to arrive, even making a green flag pit stop on lap 40 and holding steady within the top-25, despite battling his illness and a racecar that was too loose into the track's corners.
The opportunity to make the driver change finally came as the yellow caution flag waved on lap 60. Busch came to pit road on the following lap and swapped places with Gilliland, all while the M&M's crew changed four tires and filled the car with fuel without losing a lap.
After Gilliland restarted 26th on lap 66, he initially complained of the car being too tight in and off the corner. Crew chief Steve Addington hoped to fix the condition with wedge and track bar adjustments on a lap-82 pit stop. With stellar work by the M&M's team, Gilliland restarted in 20th on lap 87, but he then had issues with his car being too loose into the corner and dropped back to 25th by lap 107.
While Addington threw everything he had at the No. 18 machine during the next several pit stops, nothing seemed to fix the car's ill-handling ways, and Gilliland went down a lap to eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson on lap 172, and then lost another lap eight laps from the finish.
"It was a little bit different, it was an experience, for sure," said Gilliland, who represented M&M's when he drove for Robert Yates Racing in 2006 and 2007. "Without practicing it, we just never could get it right today. We fought tight in the center and kind of struggled with that and were loose in. All in all, I'm thankful for the opportunity with M&M's and Joe Gibbs Racing to come out and do this. It wasn't a horrible day. It could've been a lot worse I guess, but we were obviously looking for a little bit better finish. But anytime you're out there and the car isn't working well, it's very, very frustrating. I'm glad I could help out today and hopefully Kyle feels better here soon."
Busch's JGR teammates -- rookie Joey Logano and Hamlin -- finished 14th and 37th, respectively.
With only six races remaining in the Sprint Cup season, Hamlin leads the JGR trio in the championship point standings, as he is JGR's lone representative in the 12-driver Chase for the Championship. Hamlin fell three spots to ninth in the standings and is now 219 markers behind new Chase leader Johnson. Busch held onto his 13th position in the standings while Logano maintained his 20th position in the standings.