"Once I got to the front it was sort of time to say goodnight.”
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch brought the No. 54 Monster Energy program to victory lane Saturday, once again. Not only was it the team’s 12th victory of the season, but it was the second time this year that Busch and team secured victory on the 1.0-mile tri-oval, and second time from the pole-qualifying position. The win gave Busch his 63rd career visit to victory lane in 269 starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS). After leading 169 of 200 laps and taking home the trophy, Busch captured his sixth victory and 12th top-10 in 16 starts at what is referred to as the “crown jewel” of desert racing.
Race day morning the team continued their positive momentum when Busch earned the 36th pole of his Nationwide Series career, in 26.982 seconds at a speed of 133.422 mph. It was his eighth first-place starting position on the Arizona-based track.
The race event started strong for Busch and team who paced the field through the first quarter of the race. “Keep being smooth,” crew chief Adam Stevens told his experienced driver. The team’s first opportunity to visit pit road came under green a flag condition at lap 79 and the crew made a wedge chassis adjustment to control a tight-handling condition that Busch had been feeling. At the race halfway point, Busch retained the lead and at lap 104, under the event’s first caution period, he had another chance to provide his crew with feedback about the car. “I’m free in, free off center,” Busch described. Stevens called the No. 54 down pit road on lap 107 and they made further chassis adjustments to balance the Toyota Camry. Driver and crew talked briefly about the best restart position and what they used in their race-winning spring event -- the “bottom” was determined to work for them.
Busch took the green flag at lap 111 and lost the lead to momentum of hard-charging front-runners, then dropped to third place. “The car is loose,” Busch relayed to his team while he battled back through the field, to second-place by lap 117 and back to first-place by lap 120. A yellow-caution flag at lap 130 provided another opportunity for the Monster Energy machine to visit pit road for further adjustments. Other teams took various pit strategies during this caution flag – two cars didn’t pit, the next three cars took fuel only and so the No. 54 was positioned in sixth-place, having taken two tires and fuel for the restart.
Upon green-flag restart at lap 135, Busch quickly started picking off competitors in front of him, moving to fourth, then third and again to second through a series of further caution periods. At lap 153 after another green-flag restart Busch moved into the lead position and retained the top spot for the rest of the race. Busch had maintained his composure and worked his way through the top-runners to regain the lead and bring the black Monster Energy machine home in style with another victory.
The NASCAR veteran, young but experienced celebrated by taking the checkered flag with a smoke show that didn’t disappoint. When interviewed post-race and asked about winning again at Phoenix, the excited driver described, “Our race car was awesome. Just can’t say enough about Adam Stevens (crew chief) and all these guys at Joe Gibbs Racing. They brought us a phenomenal race car here today. I really appreciate them and working as hard as they do for me each and every weekend all year long. It’s fun to drive these cars. It’s nice to come to the West Coast -- I get a little more cheers then I do anywhere else. It’s fun anywhere you go and we have a great time with it. We had a really good car today, certainly and there was a moment there where a couple of guys got by us on a restart, but I was just a little too loose there and was kind of waiting for my car to come to me and it certainly did. We got back by those guys and had a fast race car, so I knew it was just going to take our time and get back to the front when we could.”
When asked about his success on-track, passing cars to regain the lead, Busch explained, “It was interesting and it was actually working out in my favor really well. Every restart I would pick one or two of them off and so you would have one lap and you would pick a car off and you’d have a caution. You’d have one lap and you’d pick a car off and then you would have another caution. It was really good that I could kind of keep picking it off and then on the ensuing restarts I was bunched right back up there with them again, so I had a chance to pick off another car right away in the next corner. It just sort of worked our way and worked my way all the way to the front. Once I got to the front it was sort of time to say goodnight.”
The No. 54 team’s victory today and on-track issues for the No. 22 Penske Ford, moved the Owner’s Championship points battle to within four points. When asked about the finale season event and the hopes for a team championship, Busch replied, “I didn’t know where the points were going to wind up. I saw where his (Brad Keselowski) trouble was, obviously. I hate it that you have trouble like that when you are both racing really well and racing for a potential win together, but all in all, it’s what this sport is all about. Last week we had bad luck and it wasn’t any of our doing, just stayed out and got too loose on the long run and wore the right rear slam out and spun into the fence. Our team turned the car around and got us back out there and tried to salvage as best we can. With points, you do that as well today. You go into next week and you push hard, you do the best you can and you try to come out there with as many points as you can and see where it all tallies up in the end.”
Busch secured the lead four times for a total of 169 race laps. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth, Elliott Sadler and Drew Herring finished 6th, 8th and 16th respectively. Justin Allgaier, Austin Dillon, Regan Smith and Sam Hornish Jr. completed the top-five finishers. There were seven caution periods for 34 laps of the race along with seven lead changes across four drivers.
The No. 54 Monster Energy team remains second in the Owner’s Point standings, now only four points from the lead.
The next event on the NNS schedule is the season finale Ford EcoBoost 300 from Homestead-Miami (Fla.) with the race television broadcast starting at 4:00 p.m. EST on ESPN2. Busch will make his 26th start of the season behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.