No. 54 Team Records 11th Top-10 of the Season
The No. 54 Monster Energy team, with owner-driver Kyle Busch, entered the Finger Lakes region hopeful for a strong run on the 2.45-mile Watkins Glen (N.Y.) road course. What the Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) team encountered over the weekend tested their skills as a team. Overcoming a variety of hurdles - such as a practice session in the rain, a broken engine, a deficient oil tank, starting from the rear of the field, a broken shifter handle and a stuck throttle - to finish sixth, the young team ultimately showed their strength in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
The first day at track started with thunderstorms, which delayed the one and only practice session scheduled. As this was a road-course, Goodyear had a rain tire available for use in wet conditions. While it continued to rain, NASCAR required all the teams to hit the track and complete at least one timed lap, in order to be eligible to participate in the qualifying session that would happen Saturday morning. The teams had a certain window of time to accomplish this and the No. 54 group waited as long as possible in order for the rain to stop and the track to possibly dry.
When they finally did go out, the rain had subsided and the Monster Energy team was able to run on normal tires. Busch made two laps and immediately posted the second fastest time of the field. The crew and driver were happy with their results, considering the earlier weather hurdles, until Busch indicated on practice lap four, the motor had blown.
A disappointed crew brought the black machine to the garage and quickly began replacing the broken engine with a fresh one. This work continued late into the night Friday and early Saturday, with NASCAR's approval for extended garage time, in order to make the repair. The KBM group completed the major fix in time to qualify the car Saturday morning. NASCAR approved the team to begin the race in their qualifying spot, without any penalty from the engine change. Although once a fifth-place starting position was secured, Busch and team discovered an issue with the car's oil tank, and made the decision to replace it.
The oil tank replacement was considered an unapproved adjustment during post-qualifying impound, so the No. 54 dropped to the rear of the field upon race start. From the 41st-position, Busch took the green flag and around the first 2.45-mile circuit drove his black Monster Energy car into the 25th spot. Three laps later the No. 54 team was scored in 19th, then in 17th when the first yellow-flag caution of the race waved.
"Save fuel," commented Crew Chief Mike Beam as the team chose not to visit pit road but discussed the car's handling with their veteran driver. Busch relayed to his group, "the car is good, only thing I would like is a little better rear grip." The team noted the car condition and discussed amongst themselves what changes would be made when the first pit stop did occur.
A green-flag restart on lap 11 offered Busch the opportunity to advance further, passing road-course expert Ron Fellows for the 10th spot, then on lap 15 by passing NNS championship contender Elliott Sadler for the ninth position. The No. 54 car was responding well to the course, allowing Busch the opportunity to reach as high as third place, when the team chose to make their first pit stop of the day under green flag conditions.
"I need side bite," described Busch on the radio. Beam and crew worked on the black machine at lap 21, providing a track bar adjustment, fresh tires and fuel. The pit stop was fast and once other competitors cycled through pit road, the No. 54 team still remained in the top-10 of the field, now back to sixth place.
Team and driver were quiet on the radio while Busch focused on the field ahead, until the team owner relayed that his shifter handle broke. After discussing the problem, Busch determined it would take too long during a pit stop to repair the ball and shaft, so he pushed through, continuing to work the 11-turn racetrack without it.
Another yellow-flag caution occurred at the mid-way point in the race but the No. 54 team chose not to visit pit road, instead salvaging their top-five position. The green-flag restart this time showcased Busch's talent, as he passed three cars within one lap and moved into the second-place spot, behind race leader Brad Keselowski.
Another round of green-flag pit stops began and during the transition of cars to pit road, Busch took the lead at lap 51 for one circuit, before visiting pit road himself. The crew made more chassis adjustments and air pressure changes in the tires, to give their driver a better handling machine. A third yellow-flag event caution ensued and the team remained on-track in the eighth position, as they had pitted four laps prior. Another green-flag restart and Busch made an exciting pass from fifth to third place behind event leaders Kasey Kahne and Keselowski.
With 20 laps remaining in the event, Busch wheeled his car to second place, working to reduce the 0.79-second lead Keselowski had on the No. 54, while also defending his position to the third-place car and eventual race winner Carl Edwards. A fourth yellow-flag caution period waved at lap 68, when the team heard Busch communicate another hurdle, "the throttle is sticking now." Beam and team hoped at this point, the Monster Energy Toyota would continue for Busch without further issues, allowing the team to salvage a good run, amidst obstacles.
A fifth and final event caution occurred with six laps remaining in the event. "You've done a hell of a job," Beam relayed to his driver before Busch completed the final event laps. Happy to bring their car home in one piece and having overcome multiple challenges presented to them during their first visit to The Glen, the No. 54 KBM team recorded a sixth-place finish, their 11th top-10 of the year.
Crew Chief Beam commented on the weekend hurdles post race, "We've had so many issues, it's just crazy. The shifter ball broke off 30 laps into it and Kyle (Busch) did a great job sticking with it. The throttle is sticking - we've had so many issues. Just losing that engine yesterday and then having the problem there at qualifying and starting at the rear. Everybody has done a great job on this Monster Energy Toyota. I'm proud of everyone. Kyle (Busch) was hanging tough for us."
Source: Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM}}