Busch Nabs Points Lead with Career-Best Martinsville Finish
Pedigree Team Leads Six Times for Race-High 151 Laps En Route to Third-Place Finish
Kyle Busch led six times for a race-high 151 laps in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Goody’s Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. But despite another strong run, Busch’s No. 18 Pedigree Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) couldn’t hold off the charging Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., over the final 28-lap dash to the finish, leaving Busch to settle for a third-place finish.
Despite his disappointment over coming up short after another strong effort, Busch will head to next week’s event at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth as the new Sprint Cup points leader.
“We had one of the best runs we’ve ever had here at Martinsville,” said Busch, who now has seven top-10 finishes in 13 career Sprint Cup starts at Martinsville. “I probably had the best car here, today, and unfortunately we couldn’t bring home a win with our Pedigree Camry. It just came down to the last run of the race, there, and it was kind of a short run. We didn’t have the car to do it on a short run. Every time we had the lead off pit road, we lost it. It took about 30 laps to get going again. I think the last run was about 28 laps, and that’s when I started catching those guys a little bit. They were racing, they were battling, but we did get back up to them. I probably would have had something to beat them with. I just couldn’t find speed here at Martinsville when it mattered most.”
After starting 11th, the talented 25-year-old wasted no time patiently working his way to the front as he moved into the top-10 by lap 20, the top-five by lap 54 and second on lap 63. Busch took the lead for the first time on lap 78 and stayed there until a round of pit stops on lap 108. He sat within the top-five over the next 200 laps. On lap 315, he was able to regain the lead after a solid effort by the Pedigree over-the-wall team during a round of green-flag pit stops. From there, Busch looked to be in control as he pulled away from the field on long, green-flag runs. Crew chief Dave Rogers ordered up an assortment of air pressure, wedge, and track-bar changes in hopes of making a good car even better on each stop.
As the race wound down and Busch appeared to be in command, he and the entire Pedigree team had hoped the race would come down to their strong suit – a long green-flag run – to finish off the 500-lap race. But just as they were planning their final green-flag pit stop of the day, the caution waved on lap 467 for a spin by Regan Smith. While the Pedigree team performed another flawless pit stop on lap 468 to put Busch out ahead for the final 28-lap run to the finish, Busch knew his car wasn’t suited for a short run to end the race.
Soon after the final restart, Busch was passed on lap 480 by Earnhardt and then by Harvick the very next lap. It was a tough pill to swallow since all Busch could do was hold on for the final laps knowing there simply wasn’t enough time for his car to come to him and allow him to catch Harvick or Earnhardt.
I probably had the best car here, today, and unfortunately we couldn’t bring home a win...
“They (Harvick and Earnhardt) were getting after it and I gained on them and got there on the last lap,” Busch said. “There just wasn’t enough time at end. We had made the car better on the short run. Just not enough.”
Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammates – Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry, and Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry – finished 12th and 13th respectively.
With round six of 36 complete, Busch leads the Sprint Cup Series championship standings with 219 points, five markers ahead of second-place Carl Edwards
Hamlin moved up two spots to 19th in the standings with 145 points, 74 markers out of the top spot. Logano also gained two spots and now sits 27th with 124 points, 95 markers behind Busch.
Harvick won the Goody’s Fast Relief 500 to score his 16th career Sprint Cup victory, his second of the season and his first at Martinsville. Harvick won last Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., marking the second time in his career he’s scored back-to-back victories, the last of which came in September 2006 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.
Earnhardt finished .727 of a second behind Harvick in the runner-up spot to earn his best result since winning at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn on June 15, 2008. Busch, Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top-five, while Matt Kenseth, polesitter Jamie McMurray, David Ragan, Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 72 laps, with seven drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.