Five months ago, Kurt Busch and his younger brother's Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) NASCAR Nationwide Series team enjoyed the thrill of victory for the first time together at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Last night, at the same short-track oval, Busch and the No. 54 Monster Energy crew attempted to repeat the thrill of visiting victory lane.
Busch and team had worked their way to the front and appeared on track for a win, until a late-race caution waved bringing the field back together again. A strong effort on the last restart kept the Toyota team amongst the frontrunners, completing the night with a third-place finish.
The one-day show started with a morning practice session during which the team tried different setups in order to find the best grip for Busch to manage the turns. Busch posted lap times amongst the top-10 competitors, then ultimately Crew Chief Mike Beam transitioned the car into a 'package' that was similar to what they ran in the April race, the one this team won. Practice was followed by a 17th-place qualifying effort for the 250-lap night race.
After taking the green flag, the team was off to a strong start, reaching the top-10 by lap 19. At the first race caution on lap 36, Beam brought his veteran driver down pit road and made adjustments to the car. Initial feedback relayed by Busch was that the car's handling was "loose" and there was a brake vibration occurring.
Once back on track, Busch drove his black Monster Energy machine up to fifth-place by lap 62, maintaining that position for 35 laps. When asked if the pit-stop changes helped the car, Busch encouraged the crew to, "keep working to help us in Turns 1 and 2, that is where we were strong in the April race."
Close to the event's halfway point and in fourth place, the team visited pit road for a second time under a yellow-flag caution period and reversed most of the changes made from the first stop. At the lap 117 restart, Busch wheeled his Toyota from fifth place to fourth, within one lap, and to third place on the next lap, positioning himself behind race leaders Kevin Harvick and Elliott Sadler. Despite battling a continued loose-handling car, Busch and the No. 54 were posting faster lap times than the No. 33 of Harvick.
A third caution period occurred at lap 143 and the KBM team visited pit road for the third time of the evening to replace tires and fuel. That green-flag restart was productive for Busch, as he drove the Monster Energy car back to third place, when a hard two-car accident on track brought the caution flag out once again. NASCAR would slow the drivers to avoid a large debris field. Busch and team chose not to pit, maintaining a second-place position for the restart at lap 163.
Two more yellow-flag caution periods and one more visit to pit road offered the team time to make further changes to their Camry. While the brake vibration was still present, Beam and crew were hopeful a final round of adjustments would give their veteran driver what he needed to charge the front of the field.
Younger brother and team owner, Kyle Busch watched his brother's progression from Turn 1, staying in touch with Busch on the radio, encouraging him through the final portion of the race. "Back it up, roll nice down to the bottom, smooth," said the car owner to his sibling driver. "Be patient, keep the front tires on it, you're fine and stretching it out," the younger Busch continued.
Full of desire to take his brother's team to victory lane once again, Busch took the race lead at lap 201 and maintained the front position for 25 laps. It was a difficult task, fending off the hard-charging cars of Harvick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but one that Busch was well prepared for. The NASCAR champion dug in and prepared to lead his team to the finish line, until one last event caution occurred at lap 227.
Although Busch was leading the race at the time of the final caution, due to his position at the scoring line when the yellow-flag occurred, NASCAR scored the Monster Energy machine in second place behind Harvick for the restart. With less than 25 laps remaining in the race, the No. 54 team chose not to visit pit road in order to maintain track position.
Busch fought hard on lap 233, at the final green-flag restart, staying close to the race leader and fending off Stenhouse Jr., until time ran out for him to make his last charge, ultimately bringing the black machine home in third place.
"It was a solid night," commented Busch post race. He continued, "We were close, but not perfect. It's a lot of fun racing with Monster Energy as a sponsor. They want to see us win and we pushed hard tonight and we just couldn't get the car settled down into the corner. Had a brake vibration -- fighting it all night.
Made it a little bit too tight, so when I was holding the lead with (Kevin) Harvick right behind us, I think I might have been holding Harvick up a little bit. He had a strong car last week. He came back and got it this week. Those guys are strong and we just didn't want that one to slip through our fingers, but Kevin Harvick was the better car tonight.
Thanks to Monster Energy, Toyota, Triad engines - these guys work really hard. This is the hardest working group of guys on pit road and I'm glad they're on my team."
Harvick recorded his 38th victory in 288 NASCAR Nationwide Series races. Stenhouse, Jr. finished in the second spot, while Busch, Denny Hamlin and Michael Annett completed the top-five finishers. There were seven caution periods for 45 laps of the race along with eight lead changes across six drivers, including Busch who led one time for 25 laps. The No. 54 Monster Energy team remains ninth in the Owner's Point standings, 131 points from the leader.
The Nationwide Series continues action Sept.15 at the Dollar General 300 from Chicagoland (Ill.) Speedway.
Source: Kyle Busch Motorsports