BUSCH BRINGS HOME SOLID FOURTH-PLACE FINISH AT MARTINSVILLE M&M's Driver Equals Career Best at .526-mile Paperclip-Shaped Oval Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), rallied from a starting spot deep in...
BUSCH BRINGS HOME SOLID FOURTH-PLACE FINISH AT MARTINSVILLE
M&M's Driver Equals Career Best at .526-mile Paperclip-Shaped Oval
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), rallied from a starting spot deep in the field and made a pass on four-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson with just 11 laps remaining to score a solid fourth-place finish in Sunday's TUMS Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
The talented 25-year-old equaled his career-best finish at the .526-mile paperclip as he finished fourth on three other occasions -- April 2007, October 2007 and October 2009.
"That was just a good way to run here at Martinsville -- one of these places that I struggle at tremendously," said Busch, who jumped up one spot in the championship standings to fourth but still sits 172 points behind series-leader Johnson. "We really fought a couple things that we made changes with but, overall, the guys did a great job from when we unloaded here. We were a little off, but Dave (Rogers, crew chief) and the guys never gave up on this M&M's Camry and they made a lot of changes and got it a lot better. Real proud of the effort and the way we came out here today. Pit strategy got us up front and we kind of kept it from there. We weren't that great on the beginning of the run -- I would fall back a little bit, probably a couple seconds off the lead -- but then, after about 40 or 50 laps, I could start reeling them back in a little bit. There just weren't enough of those long runs in there to keep us in the ball game. Overall, a good day for us and we'll take it."
After a disappointing qualifying effort of 26th on Friday, Busch patiently picked his way through the field throughout the first 150 laps, moving into the top-10 for the first time on lap 163. Despite moving up in the running order, Busch's M&M's Toyota did not drive off the corner to his liking. Rogers, his crew chief, worked to remedy the problem with a combination of air-pressure, trackbar, and wedge adjustments during the first two stops of the day.
While those adjustments brought the car to life, Busch still had a slight issue with his drive up off the corner, but improved it with much smaller air-pressure changes Rogers made through the remainder of the 500-lap race.
The Las Vegas native stayed just inside the top-10 until just short of the halfway point, when Busch and Rogers made a decision that would turn out to be a key to their strong finish. With all the leaders pitting on lap 229, Busch and Jeff Gordon decided to stay out on the track, gaining precious track position that resulted in Busch restarting second behind Gordon on lap 232.
The green flag run from laps 247-289 played right into their hands, and the improved track position helped Busch and the M&M's team stay within the top-five for what turned out to be the remainder of the event.
While Sunday's race saw a whopping 15 cautions for a total of 90 laps, the race went caution-free for the final 97 circuits as Busch worked during those final laps to get around Johnson. After nearly 40 laps battling with Johnson, Busch was finally able to muscle underneath the four-time champion in a furious late-race battle to seal the 10th top-five finish of the season for the M&M's team.
"Jimmie (Johnson) and I had a heated battle, there, for a little bit," Busch said. "I felt like I had the faster car than he (Johnson) did and he was kind of slowing the center down a little bit. That's where I was faster. I couldn't get by him on forward bite -- he had better forward bite than I did -- but if I could just roll my line and just keep rolling around there, then I could be faster than him. Typical short-track fashion -- you come down toward the end of the race and he wants to keep his points intact and I want to get up there and run a little bit better and put him further behind Denny (Hamlin). Jimmie and I, we know how to do it and I didn't do it rough enough to where I turned him or anything. I just tried to give him a little bit, a little bit to try to get by him. Finally, we got by him, so it worked out."
Hamlin, Busch's JGR teammate, won the TUMS Fast Relief 500. It was his 15th career Sprint Cup victory, his series-high seventh of the season and his fourth victory and 10th top-10 finish in 11 races at Martinsville. Hamlin has now won three consecutive Sprint Cup races at Martinsville and four of the last six.
Busch's other JGR teammate, Joey Logano, finished a solid sixth and marked the second consecutive week that the JGR trio all finished in the top-10.
Hamlin finished 2.318 seconds ahead of runner-up Mark Martin, while Kevin Harvick, Busch and Johnson rounded out the top-five. Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Jeff Burton and Brad Keselowski comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Nine drivers failed to finish the 500-lap race.
Hamlin and Busch represent JGR in this year's Chase for the Championship. Hamlin came to Martinsville second in the standings, 41 points behind Chase-leader Johnson. He remained second in the standings after Martinsville, but is now just six markers arrears Johnson.
Busch entered Martinsville fifth in the standings, 177 points behind Johnson. He picked up one spot and is now fourth, 172 markers out of first.
Logano moved up one spot to 17th in the standings with 3,649 points.