From Pole Position, No. 54 Toyota leads 195 of 200 laps to earn 10th victory of the season.
Kyle Busch not only grabbed the No. 54 team’s 10th victory of the season, but he and the Joe Gibbs racing (JGR) unit did it with dominance. The Monster Energy athlete captured victory at Chicagoland (Ill.) Speedway in Joliet Saturday afternoon, his third win and sixth top-10 finish in 10 races on the 1.5-mile oval in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Busch’s win set a series record for leading the most laps at a 1.5-mile race track, surpassing Dale Earnhardt’s 194 laps led at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in 1986. The win from the pole position was Busch’s 19th – another series record.
The Monster Energy team was ready for a Chicago return, having raced there earlier this season with rookie driver Joey Coulter, who qualified 15th, drove steadily and completed a 14th-place finish. Their return to the Joliet, Ill. facility this time, included their 28-year old veteran, the winningest driver in the Nationwide Series garage.
Good signs were evident right away, when Busch and team ran quick laps over two practice sessions on Friday. The JGR driver felt comfortable with his car setup, telling the crew early in the final practice session, “thanks boys, car’s good, we can park it now.”
The now seven-time Chicago winner knew what he was feeling in the seat of the No. 54 was right, and Saturday morning he proved it, when he paced the track at 178.968 mph over 30.173 seconds, and earned his eighth Coors Light Pole Award of the season. The first-place starting spot would become Busch’s 34th pole capture in 264 Nationwide Series career races.
On a beautiful warm, late summer afternoon, the green flag dropped and Busch made quick work to advance ahead of the field as much as 10 car lengths, within the first five laps.
First comments heard over the radio came on lap 19, when Busch asked his team to check the car’s side skirts to make sure they were wearing in correctly. His spotter confirmed the car looked as it should, and they continued until the first event caution appeared on lap 25.
Under yellow-flag conditions Busch visited pit road for what would be the first of three times in the event. After taking on fresh Goodyear tires and more Sunoco fuel, the No. 54 prepared to exit the pit box and Busch encountered traffic driving off pit road. The delay scored the No. 54 team in sixth place on the restart, but in three laps, Busch had already moved his team back into the lead position.
On lap 56 of the 200-lap race, Busch reported to his team about the car handling, “The balance is really good, just when it gets into the corner it starts to shoot out a little.” Crew chief Adam Stevens replied, “10-4 we’ll stay on top of it.”
The next opportunity to visit pit road was taken on lap 83, under green-flag conditions, when Busch brought his black machine to the stall and his Camry team provided new tires, more fuel and a car adjustment. “I’m more free than I want to be sometimes,” described Busch, “But it’s not bad. Otherwise car’s really good!”
Busch continued to maintain his first-place position and felt good about his car’s progress over the next 20 laps, until he finally saw the track conditions start to change. Busch was heard telling his team, “It’s greasier now, you might want to tighten it (car) up a bit.” Crew chief Stevens replied, “Yeah, everyone is dealing with it.”
On lap 106, an event caution occurred and the Monster Energy group took the opportunity to visit pit road for more replenishments. They remained in first place over 50 more laps, until the next yellow flag waved and they drove down pit road for more tires and fuel.
A green-flag restart on lap 163, then a subsequent yellow flag on 165, slowed progress of the remaining race laps, however, the No. 54 neglected to pit. Green, then yellow again, on lap 173 and Busch maintained his first-place spot, again staying on the racetrack while others visited pit road for adjustments.
One more event caution occurred on lap 183 and the No. 54 team held their track position. On that last green-flag restart the No. 3 Chevrolet of Austin Dillon competed hard with Busch to fight for the first-place spot, but the matchup didn’t last. Busch cleared the No. 3 and kept digging, then extended his lead to the finish line. Busch took the checkered flag in first and immediately thanked his crew for the seamless effort made to capture the win.
When asked what the key was to winning today’s trophy, Busch replied, "You always have to have good race cars. So, we’ve got to have a good racecar for tomorrow’s race too. But I tell you what, this was an awesome racecar right here. This Monster Energy Camry was phenomenal. I’ve had some Nationwide Series cars that were dominant, but we had a lot of fun here.”
Busch continued, “I tell you, it’s just a testament to this team. All these guys at JGR, Adam Stevens (crew chief) and everyone on this No. 54 team – they do a great job. They have all year long, and we’re chasing this owner’s deal. We’re hoping that we can keep inching closer. If they (No. 22 Penske Ford) keep finishing second like that, it’s going to take us getting wins, that’s for sure.”
Crew chief Stevens commented post race as well, “It’s a pretty special group of guys we have got here. The majority of us have been together awhile, this is our third year now – my third year doing this job. It’s nice to come to the track when you have so much confidence in how your car is prepared. Obviously, if you give Kyle something close, you’re going to have a good day.
Today we were probably able to get a little bit closer than most days, but at the end it’s not like you don’t have a lap on the field at the end of the day. You can go out there and lead a lot of laps and still have to race for it at the end. It was a good solid weekend.
Like Kyle said, we’ve kind of been scratching our heads a bit and trying to keep moving forward so we can finish strong this season. We’re not really back on our heels, we’re going after it as best as we can and just going after this owner’s championship.”
Busch recorded his 61st victory in 264 NASCAR Nationwide Series races. It was his 10th victory and 17th top-10 finish in 2013. With the win, he is tied for second on the Nationwide Series’ single season wins list. Busch himself holds the record with 13 wins in 2010.
Joey Logano finished in the second spot, while Sam Hornish Jr., Dillon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top-five finishers. There were six caution periods for 27 laps of the race along with four lead changes across four drivers, including Busch who led two times for a race-high 195 laps.
The No. 54 Monster Energy team remains second in the Owner’s Championship Point standings, 13 points from the leading No. 22 Penske Ford.
The Nationwide Series continues action Sept. 22 at the Kentucky 300 from Kentucky Speedway in Sparta.
Joe Gibbs Racing