Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver Kyle Busch and the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota team had a rough day at Texas Motor Speedway (TMS) in Fort Worth Saturday. In the 28-year-old’s 24th start this season, Busch and team were hopeful to repeat a victory, like what they earned in the spring race event at the Lone Star-State facility. What began as a promising run early in the race, however, turned into disappointment when a right-rear tire malfunction caused the black Camry to hit the turn four wall, which damaged it too much to allow the Camry to remain a competitive race car. Busch and team made as many repairs as possible and remained on track for the remainder of the race, then reluctantly completed the show in 26th place. It wasn’t the day this team had hoped for and coupled with a hit in the Owner’s Championship Points battle, team members left the “Wild Asphalt Circus” grounds without the result they targeted going into the last three events of the race season.
Then under sunny conditions earlier Saturday, Busch and the No. 54 Monster Energy team qualified to earn a sixth-place starting position with a 29.249 second lap at 184.622 mph. The Las Vegas native remarked post qualifying to media members, that it would be important to keep momentum going around the Texas track that afternoon, meaning it would be important to keep speed consistent with chassis adjustments. He went on to remark that the track temperature was warmer than in Friday night’s final practice session, so although qualifying speeds were slower, they were as expected and the No. 54 crew felt they were set up exactly where they wanted to be for Saturday’s race event.
Saturday afternoon the Nationwide Series field took the green flag for 200 laps covering 300 miles. Immediately Busch went to work and gained positions quickly, then by lap five had placed the Monster Energy machine into third place.
Initial feedback from the driver indicated ‘tight-handling condition’ in Turns 3 and 4 and discussion between the spotter and crew chief centered on a strong tailwind blowing across the racetrack. Crew chief Adam Stevens relayed lap speeds, which included several circuits where Busch was the fastest car on the race track. “A 31.14 second lap, that’s outstanding,” exclaimed Stevens to Busch, who together this season have notched 11 wins with the No. 54 JGR outfit.
The Monster Energy team conducted their first pit stop of the day under green-flag conditions on lap 42, from the third position, after Busch reported a “tight center” condition. The team made a chassis adjustment and replenished four Goodyear tires and Sunoco fuel before returning Busch to the track, now recorded in the second position. Busch reported a few laps later, “I’m free now, probably need wedge next,” which provided feedback for the crew to consider for the next round of adjustments. Stevens continued to call out lap times and reminded Busch he was trending faster than the leader.
Busch was in second place on lap 70 under a race event caution when the crew and driver began calculating their next pit stop objective. As had been discussed earlier, Stevens advised his crew to make a wedge adjustment to adjust the ‘loose’ condition Busch last relayed, and to take on Sunoco fuel. The team opted not to replace Goodyear tires on this stop, thereby allowing the JGR group to have an extra set available at the end of the race, if needed with multiple caution periods.
After the green-flag restart on lap 75 and because some cars were on older tires and some on fresh ones, the No. 54 began to lose positions. Busch dropped to ninth place just past the event’s halfway point. “I’m too loose everywhere, the more I throttle, the more loose I get.” Stevens acknowledged the feedback and advised his driver that relief would come in another 20 laps with their next anticipated pit road visit.
That opportunity never happened, unfortunately, as the next yellow-flag caution waved over the field as a result of the No. 54 Camry hitting the Turn four wall. “My right-rear tire blew out!” exclaimed Busch. The tire failure forced the black machine into the track’s wall which caused a second tire to expire as he conducted the spin. Busch brought his machine to pit road and the team immediately began working to repair the damage, but not before going two laps down to the field. Two more visits to pit road and another lap lost to repair time, the No. 54 unit was scored in 29th place at the green-flag restart on lap 116, three laps down to the leaders.
To add insult to injury, as the JGR unit visited pit road to make additional repairs, under green-flag conditions, the yellow flag waved and the leader on track passed the No. 54 again, putting them another lap down to the field. At green-flag restart on lap 175 the Monster Energy team was in the 28th position. A subsequent yellow-flag waved and Busch was scored in 27th. One final green-flag restart over the field at lap 182 and Busch gained one more available position, which completed his day in the 26th spot. Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag to earn victory in the Texas event.
With today’s finish, the J.D. Gibbs-owned Toyota, No. 54 Monster Energy team moved to second place in the Owner’s Point standings, now behind the race-winning No. 22 Penske Ford, by 26 points.
Keselowski’s victory was his 26th in 203 Series starts. Denny Hamlin, Sam Hornish Jr., Matt Kenseth and Austin Dillon completed the top-five finishers. There were four caution periods for 19 laps of the race along with 15 lead changes across 6 drivers.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series continues to wind down the season next week on Nov. 9 at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway for the ServiceMaster 200, with the race television broadcast starting at 3:30 p.m. EST on ESPN2. Busch will make his 25th start of the season behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.