Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch brought the No. 54 Monster Energy program to victory lane Friday night, for the team’s ninth win of the season, sweeping both 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) events at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
The win gives Busch his 60th career visit to the checkered flag podium in 261 starts, a series record. Taking home the trophy Busch captured his sixth victory and 15th top-10 finish in 13 Nationwide Series starts at what is known as the ‘Last Great Coliseum.’
During initial on-track activity Friday morning at ‘The World’s Fastest Half Mile,’ the race team was immediately challenged when they discovered a broken brake line in the car. They spent the majority of practice replacing the line, but in the last hour of practice were able to dial the No. 54 machine in, for what they believed would be a fast setup to tackle the fast .533-mile oval.
And the team’s prediction was fulfilled. During the series’ qualifying session, Busch posted a 124.971mph, 15.354-second lap earning the No. 54 team a front row, pole-starting position. It was Busch’s sixth pole of the year and the team’s seventh, as they had one additional first-place qualifying effort completed with driver Drew Herring in Iowa.
The placement would ultimately provide Busch the opportunity to win from the first-place starting position, an accomplishment he and the JGR team have achieved six times this year in the Nationwide Series. Additionally, Busch has also won from the pole once this season with his No. 18 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series JGR team.
Upon green flag, Busch wasted no time extending his lead at the front of the field, at one point holding a 5.8-second lead over second place. On lap 10, the driver reported early to his crew, “I’m a little bit loose, rear lateral.” Busch’s veteran spotter Tony Hirschman replied back, “10-4, everyone looks loose right now, just stick with it.”
At lap 17 the team heard Busch comment on his exploration of the high and low lines around the short 0.533-mile oval. Spotter Hirschman commented back, “You were about the same when you dropped down low, from high.” Busch continued his strong pace and when the event’s first of four caution periods waved on lap 65, the team chose to remain on track and not visit pit road, while other competitors began their fuel strategy with a pit stop.
It was during the second event caution, when the No. 54 team did visit pit road for what would become their only stop of the night. On lap 106, they replenished Sunoco fuel and replaced four Goodyear tires. This pit stop would provide the one main challenge of the evening for the No. 54 team, who entered pit road in first place, then exited and would restart the race in fourth place.
The reason for the decline, the No. 32 of Kyle Larson did not pit and remained on track to become the new race leader. Additionally, the No. 6 of Trevor Bayne only took two fresh tires and the No. 22 of Brad Keselowski conducted a slightly faster pit stop than the Monster Energy team.
It wouldn’t take Busch long, however, to advance his position once again. The green flag restart occurred on lap 109. At lap 113, the Monster Energy Camry was back into second place and at lap 129 Busch regained the race lead. A third event caution period waved on lap 152 and the Camry team’s crew chief reminded his talented driver, “Easy on the fuel and take care of your tires.”
What transpired on the radio next was interesting as the driver and crew chief conducted dialogue about the necessity for another pit road visit. Busch reported, “The car is good out front, but in traffic I’m tight.” To pit or not to pit, that was the question and it was a difficult one to answer.
“Some of these cars are staying out, if you go back to fifth or sixth, can you get back to the front?” Busch’s reply, “We’d have to pass the No. 22 (Keselowski).” The crew chief relied on the team’s spotter Hirschman, who had a bird’s eye view of what the No. 22 car would do, to make the decision. Ultimately the No. 54 did not visit pit road, and neither did their closest competition, the No. 22 Ford.
One final event yellow waved on lap 166, but there was no dialogue needed about a further pit road visit. The ‘bed was made’ and the team held tight while they watched their winning driver hold first place over the final 87 laps. The NASCAR veteran celebrated once again at Bristol, by taking the checkered flag with a great smoke show and his famous bow.
When interviewed post-race about the strength of the No. 54 team this year, the confident driver described, “I think that stems first off from the shop and Adam Stevens (crew chief) and the guys being able to put together a really good piece and bring together a good race car here. From there, it’s just practice.
We worked on the car and being able to try and achieve what I’m looking for out of the car. I felt like we did a good job of that today. Adam and the guys made some good changes. We had a moment there where we had to change the brake line and caliper because we had an issue.
Took some time out and fixed that and then went back to practice and it was good. It showed tonight. Certainly, 250 laps around here at Bristol will go by in a hurry, but our car being out front certainly makes that a little bit easier for us and having some racing there with Kyle Larson again, that was fun. Kind of boxing through some lapped traffic there and then just being able to hold Brad Keselowski off behind us -- he’s good here, we know that.
It seems to be a battle between the No. 54 and No. 22 (Keselowski) week in and week out, and it may continue on that way through the rest of the year. We’re working hard at trying to capture those ‘W’s’ and when we can do it, we certainly cherish them.”
Busch continued his remarks regarding the team’s strength at Bristol, “It comes from preparation, it comes from the shop, and it comes from practice here. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and I we work real well together. The team worked hard. Today we just had a great car and a great job by these guys putting together such a strong Monster Energy Camry. It was a lot of fun tonight.
It’s cool when you can start up front, lead laps like that, but yet you have some battles with holding off the No. 22 (Brad Keselowski) and having to pass the No. 32 (Kyle Larson) – it was just a fun day. The Toyota Camry was awesome so I can’t say enough about JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) engines, Nationwide Insurance, and the fans. Whether you’re cheering or booing me, it doesn’t matter. We’re here to win races, take trophies home and that’s what we’re going to try to do tomorrow night too.”
This week Busch accomplished victory in two NASCAR national series already in the ‘Bristol bowl,’ the Camping World Truck Series race Wednesday night and last evening’s Nationwide Series event. When asked if he can complete the ‘sweep’ for the second time in his career at Bristol Motor Speedway, he replied, “I don’t know.
It’s going to be tough tomorrow (Saturday) that’s for sure. You always save the best and hardest one for last, but I feel like we had a good car today in practice and there were some times where we showed some speed. A lot of cars could run the same speed. We see that all the time. Over here in the Nationwide Series car I felt like I had a little bit better car in practice and it sort of showed in the race.
Starting deep in the field like that Saturday, I’m going to have to be patient, but can’t be too patient or the leaders will be bearing down on you if you get stuck in traffic and can’t go anywhere. That’s what Bristol is all about. We’ll just have to continue to cut through traffic and hopefully the bottom works. If I get a good handling car on the bottom then I can make some hay down there. It’s going to be a train around the top for sure.”
The seasoned Bristol lap leader recorded a race high 228 of 250 laps led over two segments. Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Justin Allgaier and Larson completed the top-five finishers. There were four caution periods for 32 laps of the race along with two lead changes across two drivers.
The No. 54 Monster Energy Camry owned by J.D. Gibbs remains second in the Owner’s Point standings, now only 16 points from the lead.
The next event on the NNS schedule is the Great Clips/Grit Chips 300 at Atlanta (Ga.) Motor Speedway with the race television broadcast starting at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN2. Busch will make his 18th start of the season behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.
Joe Gibbs Racing