Kyle Busch and the No. 54 Monster Energy team will wait another week to work towards their 11th win of the season, after Saturday’s effort at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City yielded a fourth-place finish on the 1.5-mile oval.

Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Friday’s practice sessions were complicated and time on track was ultimately reduced for the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing team who elected to make a big change after concerns were raised by Busch. Upon first hitting the track for the initial practice session, Busch smelled a fume inside the car and the team, also noticed that on-track speed wasn’t matching what it should have been. Busch had experienced the smell before, coincidentally at Kansas Speedway, when his Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Tundra had blown a motor previously. Toyota and JGR engine builders took time to investigate the concern and ultimately made the decision to change the motor for Saturday’s race.

Due to the fact that the engine had not technically expired, according to the NASCAR rule book, changing the motor would mean the No. 54 Toyota would start in the rear of the field. Although the group recorded a 29.525 second lap at 182.896 mph, their 12th-place qualifying effort would be altered and the Toyota team would take the green flag from 40th place.

Busch didn’t spend too long in the back of the field and navigated to 25th by lap 10. At lap 30 the 28-year-old was 14th and by Lap 60, Busch broke into the top-10 with a ninth-place spot. “The car feels real good,” described Busch from behind the wheel. He continued, “It’s doing everything I want it to do.” Although a few event cautions had occurred early in the race, crew chief Adam Stevens didn’t call his driver down pit road until lap 27 when they replaced two Goodyear tires and replenished Sunoco fuel. Two subsequent caution periods would occur, but without a pit road visit, and the only instruction Stevens offered over the radio to Busch was to ‘save fuel.’

A quarter of the way through the 200-lap event the car condition began to change for Busch, who from the 10th position reported, “It has a free entry, tight everywhere else.” Busch would later advise Stevens that his ‘turn entry’ was good but to focus attention on his ability to drive through and exit the turns.

A pit stop near the race halfway point offered the team an opportunity to make a track bar adjustment that would hopefully loosen up the tight condition Busch continued to drive through. While the matte black No. 54 machine was exiting pit road, an event caution waved. After discussing the scoring lines with NASCAR the JGR Monster Energy team did remain on the lead lap with the first waive-around position. Busch was now placed in 14th.

Another event caution at lap 116 allowed the team to make adjustments to the car chassis. Under a subsequent yellow flag on lap 131, from the sixth spot, Busch’s concern with progress came through on the radio, “Aero situations mess me up. When I can get by myself I’m fine. In traffic I’m messed up.” Another pit road visit on lap 146 and Stevens offered further adjustments to his Camry. With a two-tire stop and the way pit sequences of other teams played out, the No. 54 was scored in fourth place behind the No. 22 Penske Ford and the No. 18 and No. 11 Toyotas of JGR teammates Matt Kenseth and Elliott Sadler.

Encouraged by the No. 54 car’s lap speeds, Stevens communicated positive direction to his driver, “The No. 22 is backing up and the No. 18 is tracking two laps short of fuel right now. We are in the catbird seat, take care of it.” Stevens then proceeded to call out lap times to Busch that confirmed what was previously discussed, that the No. 54 Camry was the fastest car of the field at that point.

What looked to be a promising charge to the front, however, turned into a difficult turn of events. On lap 189, while they battled for the second position, the No. 54 Monster Energy machine and No. 22 Penske Ford made contact with each other, which resulted in an accident for the No. 22 of Brad Keselowski. The incident would send the Ford competitor to the garage. Busch remarked over the radio, “I hate that. I couldn’t get my car turned.”

On green flag restart, at lap 195, after track cleanup from that accident, Busch was scored in his highest running position of the race, in second place. The traffic at restart was hectic and although he battled hard to regain momentum, Busch’s fourth-place position would become his final spot in the Kansas Lottery 300.

Busch described his race, “Our afternoon was okay. We had to start in the back obviously and come up through the field there and we had a great race car. The final run was really good. We were fast and had a shot to win the race probably and just got too tight up off the corner underneath the No. 22 (Keselowski) there and got too close to him, got inside of his wake and I just couldn’t get the car to turn, so it ultimately got into him and spun him out. But, we came home with a fourth-place salvaged. It’s not what we wanted. We certainly would have been a lot better off if we could have gotten the race to just go green to the end.”

When asked about the incident with Keselowski, Busch further commented, “It was hard racing. There were a lot of moments where maybe I felt a little crowded, but the contact there that ultimately ended it, I just got real tight off of turn four. I’ve been battling tight underneath him and behind him and everything else and finally I thought I had a run and I tried to stay in the gas so I could get a run on him and get to his quarter and side-drafted him down the front straightaway. I got too tight, got inside his wake and it just got too close to him and spun him out. All in all though it was a good day for us. This Monster Energy Camry was fast, the fastest car there that final run. Just got a little too close there one time and didn’t give myself enough room and then of course that last restart wasn’t good.”

Busch’s JGR teammate Kenseth recorded his 28th victory in 260 NASCAR Nationwide Series races. Paul Menard finished in the second spot, while Regan Smith, Busch and Allgaier completed the top-five finishers. There were 11 caution periods for 50 laps of the race along with 17 lead changes across 10 drivers.

The No. 54 Monster Energy team remains second in the Owner’s Championship Point standings, now five points behind the leading No. 22 Penske Ford.

The Nationwide Series continues action Oct. 11 at the Dollar General 300 from Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. The Friday night event television broadcast will start at 7p.m. EST on ESPN and on the PRN radio broadcast. Kyle Busch will make his 23rd start of the season behind the wheel of the JGR No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.

Matt Martelli