Kyle Busch salvaged a 6th place finish after multiple misadventures with the infamous Darlington wall during the Southern 500 Saturday night.
Kyle Busch looked to be a contender in the early laps of Saturday night’s Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Handling issues during the middle of the race, however, presented a myriad of on-track problems that a late-race gamble helped to negate, propelling the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) to a sixth-place finish, his sixth career top-10 in 10 career starts at the 1.366-mile oval.
“I guess we should be happy with sixth considering how we could have finished with our M&M’s Camry,” said Busch, the 2008 winner at Darlington. “I’m a little disappointed because I really feel like we should have gotten fourth, but we seemed to always be behind one of the cars spinning the tires on the restarts at the end. It’s a top-10, which is good going into the off week.”
Starting from the eighth position Busch wasted no time in racing to the front, climbing into the top-five within the first five laps and up to third by lap 20. Despite tight handling he continued to turn lap times as fast as – and at times faster than – the leader. Busch would climb as high as second in the running order before issues with trying to find grip on the racetrack started to surface.
Once the sun went down, so too did the handling on the M&M’s Camry. Throughout the next several circuits around Darlington, the No. 18 team diligently applied a variety of adjustment combinations in an effort to tighten the handling on the car. Despite the team’s best efforts the grip issue remained, which resulted in Busch scoring a few of the notorious “Darlington Stripes” – the most significant from a brush with the wall occurring with less than 100 laps of racing action to go.
After making contact with the wall a second time, Busch was able to bring the M&M’s Camry to the attention of the pit crew during the eighth caution on lap 273, giving them time to correct the tow, pull out the fenders, make adjustments and change tires. The extra work resulted in Busch restarting the race in 24th place, the last car on the lead lap.
With the car unable to make up much ground in traffic, crew chief Dave Rogers elected for track position on a pit stop during the ninth caution period on lap 359, calling for only a two-tire stop. The decision placed Busch in eighth place for the restart. While he wasn’t able to make any progress on the leaders, he didn’t lose much position either, never dropping further than 11th as the race laps wound down.
A pair of late-race cautions resulted in a green-white-checkered finish. Quick pit work placed Busch in eighth place for the next-to-last restart. He made it to sixth and maintained it through to the checkered flag.
Busch’s JGR companions – Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry – finished fourth and 19th, respectively.
Kevin Harvick won the Southern 500 to score his 25th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at Darlington.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished .558 of a second behind Harvick in the runner-up spot, while Jimmie Johnson, Kenseth and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five. Busch, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 50 laps, with only seven drivers failing to finish the 374-lap race, which was extended seven laps by a green-white-checkered finish.
With round eight of 36 complete, Kenseth leads the JGR contingent in points as he sits second in the standings. He has 296 points, only one point behind series leader Gordon. Busch stands sixth with 269 points, 28 out of first, while Hamlin is 15th with 223 points, 74 out of first.
Joe Gibbs Racing