Loose Wheel Ruins Promising Night for Busch at Texas
Interstate Batteries Team Relegated to 16th-Place Finish, Remain Second in Points

With 200 of 334 laps completed in Saturday night’s Samsung Mobile 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Kyle Busch looked as if he was in prime position to record his fourth consecutive top-five finish of the 2011 season.

Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

But a loose lugnut on the left-rear tire forced Busch to make two unscheduled pit stops during the race’s final 124 laps, relegating the driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) to a 16th-place finish.

“We had a good Interstate Batteries Camry tonight,” said Busch, who has four top-five finishes in seven Sprint Cup starts this season. “We felt like it was a solid top-five car and we were working to get it better as the night went on. On one of our pit stops, we didn’t get one of the lugnuts tight and it really hurt the threads and the studs. We just kept having a loose wheel and all we could do was hold onto it and get the best finish we could without wrecking our car.”

After starting 11th in the 43-car field, Busch picked his way toward the front of the field. He slipped inside the top-10 by lap 11 and worked his way into top-five by lap 120.

As the sun set during the first ever Saturday night Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, Busch’s Interstate Batteries Camry seemed to come to life. While his car started off loose and had an overall lack of grip around the 1.5-mile oval, crew chief Dave Rogers kept making small air pressure and wedge adjustments that helped Busch pick off spots one by one.

By lap 128, Busch had worked his way up to third, and he held that spot until the first sign of trouble came on lap 208, when Busch radioed to the team that he felt a vibration. Fortunately for the Las Vegas native, the caution flew the very next lap and Busch was able to pit on lap 210 for four fresh tires.

The team diagnosed that it was a loose left-rear wheel that had caused the vibration, and Busch, Rogers and the Interstate Batteries team felt they had dodged a bullet. Unfortunately, Busch radioed to the team on lap 267 that he had another loose wheel and was forced to pit again two laps later, which put him in a different pit sequence than the rest of the field. Busch was then 12 laps short on fuel, and all he could do was hold on and hope for a caution after the leaders made their final, green flag pit stops.

We just kept having a loose wheel and all we could do was hold onto it and get the best finish we could...

Kyle Busch

That caution never came. The final 113 circuits ran caution free, forcing Busch to pit for right-side tires and fuel with 12 laps to go. Busch felt the same vibration after the final stop and did an impressive job of nursing his Toyota Camry home to the best finish possible under the circumstances.

“This Interstate Batteries pit crew is the fastest pit crew on pit road, and whenever you’re pushing the limits in a performance-based sport, you’re going to make a mistake,” said Rogers. “Unfortunately, we left a left-rear wheel loose and after you do that, it just kills all the threads and the studs and from that point forward, you cannot get the wheel tight. We had one error, it looked like we had two to three errors, but it was really one error that caused the mechanical damage that we were stuck with for the rest of the race. I stand behind these guys. I’m going to encourage them to go to Talladega and be even faster. They’re fast every week and they make very few mistakes. I’m proud of them and I’m not going to knock them down tonight.

“We had a pretty good racecar. I thought we had a shot to run up front and lead some laps there. It seemed like the track was coming to us later, but then we did have the loose wheel issues and couldn’t show it. We had a solid top-three or -four car, for sure. I think if it would’ve played out, we would’ve given them a run for their money.”

Busch’s JGR teammates – Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry, and Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry – finished 15th and 24th respectively.

Matt Kenseth won the Samsung Mobile 500 to score his 19th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his second at Texas. The 2003 Sprint Cup champion ended a 76-race winless streak dating back to Feb. 22, 2009 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Clint Bowyer finished 8.315 seconds behind Kenseth in the runner-up spot, while Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Paul Menard rounded out the top-five. Marcos Ambrose, David Ragan, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kurt Busch comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were five caution periods for 24 laps, with nine drivers failing to finish.

With round seven of 36 complete, Busch continues to lead the JGR trio in the championship standings. He dropped one spot to second with 247 points, nine markers back of new series leader Edwards.

Hamlin dropped one spot to 20th in the standings. He has 174 points and is 72 markers out of the top spot. Logano also dropped one spot and now sits 28th with 144 points, 112 markers behind Edwards.

-source: jgr