Monster Energy Team 17th at Bristol Motor Speedway
Strong Race Start and High Hopes Blown with Tire, Among Obstacles
In his 226th career NASCAR Nationwide Series start, Kyle Busch brought his newly formed No. 54 team to the high-banked oval of Tennessee, where he has enjoyed so much success. Bristol Motor Speedway proved to be difficult however, for the young team who fought adversity through the race Saturday. Early indications were the team would overcome a rough season start, as Busch climbed from an eighth-place starting position to lead 40 event laps. Unfortunately, with a pit stop error and then a worn tire, the team limped to a 17th-place finish, uncharacteristic of Busch's famous finishes at the historic track.
"We need to quit beating ourselves," described Crew Chief Mike Beam. "Kyle was driving his heart out and getting back up through there, but I guess we melted a bead on the right front," Beam continued. When asked how the team would regroup, Beam calmly explained, "We've just got to sit down Monday and talk about, one, the things that we did right and then, two, the things we did wrong and what we need to do about it. We can't do things like that -- leave wheels loose -- because it's just too costly. We've got the best driver there is and a great sponsor, so we've just got to do better."
The day started as the 46-car field was narrowed to 43 entries for the Bristol Nationwide Series event, and the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry was positioned in the fourth row for the start of the race. Busch's initial challenge was to pass the No. 11 of driver Brian Scott, and once completed, he started to work a pace that has been successful for him at the famous oval. At this point, Busch's feeling about the race car was that it's, "center tight and rear free." The crew chief acknowledged and Busch continued to make forward progress towards race leaders Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne, while fighting lapped traffic.
By lap 67 of the 300 lap event, the owner-driver had brought his No. 54 team to the race lead for the first time this year. By lap 82, the Monster Energy athlete was one-half a straightaway ahead of the second position and driving away from the field. Lapped traffic continued to be Busch's only challenge.
One-third through the race event and the field had its first yellow caution period. A report from the driver's seat confirmed, "The car is good, better than I thought -let's keep trying to make it better." The crew took advantage of the pit-stop time and provided Busch with four fresh Goodyear tires along with fuel and one-half round of wedge in the right rear of the race car. Busch restarted second, behind Logano, once the green flag waived on lap 111.
The team watched their driver move along in the top five and adjust to the recent pit-stop changes, when suddenly over the radio yelled Busch, "Get ready, get ready, I'm coming in! Right-side, tire vibration!" Unfortunately, on that previous pit stop, a right wheel was not tightened by the crew, and the owner-driver had to suddenly come back to pit road, to replace the tire and curb the issue. This resulted in the team moving to the 22nd race position, one-lap down to the race leader.
It was a mistake the team and driver had to overcome, but with calm instruction from his spotter, Busch settled back into a race rhythm and proceeded to work his magic on the track. A yellow-flag period at the race's halfway-mark provided the No. 54 with the chance to take the NASCAR "waive around" spot. By taking the track advantage, the team could not pit, but the driver took a few minutes to discuss strategy with his team in preparation for the next opportunity to make a pit stop.
Upon that race restart at lap 163, and back on the lead lap, the Monster Energy Camry tried again to get into a rhythm, until damage occurred to the right front nose of the car, from a scrape with another competitor. The third race caution waived at this time for debris, which allowed the Monster Energy pit crew to access any damage. Crew Chief Beam coordinated with the team to provide Busch with four fresh tires, fuel and to reverse adjustments made in the first pit-stop sequence, in order to give the driver the feel he was still looking for. Busch was concerned about the nose of the car, however with a patch to the right front, the crew and spotter assured him the damage was not that severe.
With 100 laps remaining in the event, the 26-year-old Bristol expert had worked his way back into the 12th position, and it was evident he was continuing to continue moving forward. The team was encouraged that they had overcome a costly mistake and was anxious to see how the last race laps would play out. Each lap, Busch showed his strength on the .533-mile oval, by moving into the top-ten, and by running the fastest lap times of the field.
By lap 252, and from the 7th position, Busch was already thinking about what changes he wanted to the car in the next pit-stop period, telling his crew, "Sure would be nice if we had a yellow here, huh?" Unfortunately, the yellow they were hoping for, was not how they wanted to see it. Because the team had run 94 laps on that set of tires, and with Busch's aggressive charge to regain positions lost earlier in the race, the No. 54 Monster Energy team brought out the fourth caution of the race, with a blown right-side tire.
The team made three more visits to pit road to correct the damaged vehicle and attempt to give Busch a machine that would drive competitively to the race end. While the No. 54 Monster Energy team did complete the event, it would be from the 17th position and one-lap down to the leaders.
The Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 NNS entry currently sits 15th in the Series Owner's Points Standings, 79 points out of first place, through four races completed.
Elliott Sadler won his second Nationwide Series event of 2012 in the DeLana Harvick and Richard Childress Racing owned machine, over second-place finisher Kasey Kahne. Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top-five finishers.
There were four caution periods for 30 laps of the race along with five lead changes across five drivers, including Kyle Busch who led one time for 40 laps.