No. 54 Monster Energy Camry 11th at PIR
Still a learning curve for owner-driver Busch and new team
Kyle Busch and his new NASCAR Nationwide Series team entered week two of the 2012 season with high expectations for the Phoenix, Ariz. short-track where the driver has done so well in the past. Unfortunately, the team is still experiencing a learning curve with each other as they battled the right car setup throughout the weekend. The No. 54 Monster Energy Camry started Saturday's Bashas' Supermarkets 200 race from the 14th position and completed the Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) Nationwide Series race in 11th place.
From a top-15 starting position, Busch began the race running lap times similar to the leaders. However, passing opportunities were difficult due to the spread-out field on the 1-mile oval. Within 20 laps of the event start, the No. 54 car and driver began making successful passes. "Good job, one at a time," described crew chief Mike Beam to his boss. The team spotter also encouraged the past PIR winner, "you are in the right rhythm here, good job, keep hitting your marks." This was heard as Busch passed Brian Scott for the 12th position before the first caution flag appeared in the race, due to track debris.
On lap 44, the Kyle Busch Motorsports team pitted the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota, taking right-side tires and a full tank of fuel as well as making a track-bar adjustment. The changes were in effort to "free" the car up, as the driver was complaining of tight turning conditions. Although Busch and crew conducted a slower pit stop than hoped for, by taking only two tires the team was able to restart the race from the sixth position.
As the race progressed towards the halfway point, the team determined car changes made in the initial pit stop were not helpful and they devised a plan for the next pit opportunity. "We are getting run over down the straightaways," proclaimed Busch from the cockpit. The team did however reach its highest position on the leader board of third during this run, and experienced some on-track "rubbing" with the No. 20, but with no real damage to the car. Not long past the halfway mark of the 200-mile race, another yellow-flag caution period presented itself. This time, the No. 54 team replaced four tires and fuel along with making some adjustments to the right-rear springs.
Those changes allowed Busch to compete within the top fifteen through the middle portion of the race however they still did not provide the owner-driver with the car feel he was looking for. Beam continued to pump his driver and team up over the radio, encouraging them to, "keep digging," as they faced their challenging race car setup. One final race caution for the day allowed the team to reverse some of the previous adjustments, in an effort to achieve more grip on the racetrack, however the final lap times remained consistent.
Week two of the race season brought the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry home in the 11th position. While disappointed the finish wasn't better for the group, team owner Busch complimented the crew and talked about more "good" things to come for this KBM Nationwide Series team. "We were missing the setup a little bit. Mike's (Beam) familiar with the same front end on the car but there are a few small things here and there that we didn't give him from the off-season. We are a small team, only two years old. We'll get caught up internally on the parts and notes needed to be competitive. I'm sure DEI and JGR didn't win right out of the gate. I want to build KBM into a successful team for years to come and we'll keep moving forward on that plan," described the positive team owner.
Elliott Sadler won his first Nationwide Series event since 1998, earning his first victory with Richard Childress Racing and car-owner DeLana Harvick. Brad Keselowski followed in the second finishing spot, where he has placed two weeks in a row. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick completed the top-five finishers. There were three caution periods for 15 laps of the race along with eight lead changes across five drivers.
The next event on the NNS schedule is the March 10th Sam's Town 300 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with the race television broadcast starting at 5:00 p.m. EST on ESPN2 and the radio broadcast on PRN. Busch will make his third start of the season behind the wheel of the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.