Already the winningest Nationwide Series driver on the race track, Kyle Busch and his wife Samantha, through their Kyle Busch Foundation, set out to become winners off the race track by supporting fellow ‘Champions,’ and won. In Busch’s 23rd start with the No. 54 Monster Energy team at Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), the team approached Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway (CMS ) the same as they have every race this season, focused on a victory. This race, however, was also focused on providing a fun night of entertainment for some very special guests – and it ultimately proved successful.
The Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy team now maintains 11 NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) event wins in 2013, and have dominated the season at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Toyota team won the May CMS event, and with eight overall NNS series victories on the 1.5-mile speedway, calculated with his NASCAR truck series wins, Busch now holds the title of the winningest driver in NASCAR history at the North Carolina home track.
Thursday’s practice session didn’t begin the way the No. 54 team and crew chief Adam Stevens hoped. “It was a battle for us from when we unloaded off the truck,” described Stevens who has led the Joe Gibbs Racing unit to 11 victories this season. “I feel like I just missed the setup for practice,” Stevens continued. “We knew it had speed, once the balance was right.”
They dialed it in appropriately, however, when on Friday for their qualifying effort they secured the first-place starting spot with a 29.446 second lap at 183.387 mph. This would ultimately result in the 20th time Busch would secure victory from the first-place starting spot, a series record, and would become his eighth win from the pole this season. Earlier Friday afternoon, another key moment took place when Samantha Busch and the Kyle Busch Foundation, made a check presentation to the Pretty in Pink Foundation, on behalf of the 12 ‘Champions’ they chose to sponsor, in the amount of $80,000. Through fundraising activities with apparel and an industry dinner and including awareness with race fans with use of a mobile mammogram screening unit and related vendor exhibitions, the program had yielded a successful fundraising goal. At that point Kyle and Samantha Busch felt they had already won, until the Dollar General 300 event began, and further win festivities would ensue.
Next up was the live race experience for the Pretty in Pink breast cancer patients. Little did they know what to expect with an ever-changing race that played out before them. Busch took the green flag and held the lead position, but not for long, relinquishing the top spot on lap seven, then finding himself in third place through the majority of the first race segment. “Rear of the car is unbalanced,” stated Busch to his crew. “I need more rear lateral,” he continued.
At lap 50 of the 200-lap event, however, Busch was scored in second and with more positive feedback about the car’s balance, reported into his team, “Did I figure something out there or is the track changing?” Stevens replied back over the radio, “Probably a little of both.” The team visited pit road during that time for new Goodyear tires, Sunoco fuel and some car adjustments. An event caution waved just after the pit road visit, and the No. 54 team remained on the lead lap in 10th-place.
During a subsequent yellow-flag period at lap 65, from the fifth-place spot, Busch reported to his team, “I’m loose in traffic, especially up top. I can’t step on the gas. The track isn’t coming to us.” Team leader Stevens reported back, “I didn’t make a big enough swing on that last pit road visit. Keep the fenders on it, we have a better adjustment for you next stop.”
A green flag restart soon after and another pit road visit under caution at lap 89 offered the team that opportunity to provide Busch with the more secure balance he was looking for. At the event’s halfway point, the No. 54 Monster Energy team was scored in third place. Soon after halfway, he was in second and another event caution flag provided one more opportunity for the team to make further adjustments, which provided Busch a top-three position.
Lap 155 under the final event caution, was the turning point when Busch relayed to his team, “I’m loose in, if you can get me more comfortable here, I’m going to be good!” Stevens called his driver down pit road on lap 156 and with a final fast stop, returned the No. 54 machine, with adjustments made, to the race track in first place.
The race would resume on lap 162 and remain under green-flag conditions the rest of the way. Busch lost the first-place spot while battling the track and against Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 12, but eventually found a high line that worked well for the race car. He took over the top spot within 10 laps to go and retained it to the checkered flag. The victory capped off a successful program both for the ‘Champions,’ there watching, and for Busch and his wife Samantha, whose strong awareness and fundraising efforts yielded an estimated $154,000 overall in donation to the Pretty in Pink Foundation. A calculation made when both Busch and No. 54 car owner J.D. Gibbs made a quick decision to donate their race purses towards the cause.
Busch described his race, “I certainly want to do this tomorrow night also, but first and foremost our breast cancer survivors are with us tonight – the champions that we have here tonight, this is an honor to them. Samantha’s done a tremendous job with her Project Pink initiative. To come out here and try to raise money – we had a dinner on Tuesday night, we had a mammogram unit at KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) on Thursday and she’s done a tremendous job. She deserves all the credit this week. She’s done everything. Here on the race track it was certainly fun and it was challenging tonight. I felt like I had the good Lord riding with me there at the end. I certainly lost the lead and I didn’t think we were going to win the thing and somehow I got to the top and started making time and was able to get back up there. Don’t know if I would have been able to do it without everything on this thing riding with us tonight and having a pink car – thanks to Monster Energy for letting us do that. It was fun and it looked awesome. I think it was for a great cause and I think a lot of people took to it and enjoyed the whole program. We’re going to donate all of our winnings tonight to the Pretty in Pink Foundation.”
When asked further about the race track and his success at the hometown facility, Busch relayed, “I enjoy coming to Charlotte, and it’s a lot of fun. I feel like I’ve really taken to this place over the years and it’s my favorite race track. It seems like I can figure it out in Truck and Nationwide, though, but seem to have a little bit of a struggle on the Cup side. We’ll see if we can change that around tomorrow. We’re a threat to be reckoned with still for this championship on the Cup side.”
Busch recorded his 32nd victory in 267 NASCAR Nationwide Series races. It was the Monster Energy driver’s eighth victory and 18th top-10 finish in 21 series races at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Austin Dillon finished in the second spot, while Hornish Jr., Kevin Harvick and Matt Kenseth completed the top-five finishers. There were five caution periods for 29 laps of the race along with 14 lead changes across 10 drivers. Busch led the field three times over 36 laps.
With the Friday night win, Bush and the No. 54 Monster Energy team take over first place in the Owner’s Championship Point standings, now four points ahead of the No. 22 Penske Ford, with three races left in the season.
The Nationwide Series takes a two-week hiatus then continues action Nov. 2 at the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 from Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The Saturday event television broadcast will start at 3:30 p.m. EST on ESPN2. Kyle Busch will make his 24th start of the season behind the wheel of the JGR No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.