Darlington: Kyle Busch race report

Busch Goes Worst to First, Settles for Seventh Doublemint Driver Charges from Rear in Backup Car, Leads Twice at Darlington Kyle Busch didn't have the greatest outlook heading into Saturday night's Showtime Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup ...

Busch Goes Worst to First, Settles for Seventh
Doublemint Driver Charges from Rear in Backup Car, Leads Twice at Darlington

Kyle Busch didn't have the greatest outlook heading into Saturday night's Showtime Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, starting from the back of the 43-car field in a backup car that had yet to turn a wheel this weekend.

But Busch and the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota Camry crew for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) worked their usual magic of late, charged methodically to the front, led twice for 29 laps in the latter half of the race, and put on a determined bid for a most unlikely victory before handling problems in the closing laps forced them to settle for a still-solid seventh-place finish.

Busch was forced to pull out his backup Doublemint Toyota after smacking the turn-three SAFER Barrier during time trials on Friday while turning the 39th-fastest qualifying lap. The backup turned out to be a tremendously race-worthy chassis by its own right as Busch had already driven it from 30th to eighth at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November and from 39th to ninth at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in March in its only two previous outings.

Saturday night, Busch took full advantage of Chassis No. 18-254's penchant for moving from the rear to the front of the field from the drop of the green flag. He made his way into the top-10 from the 43rd starting position by the 88th of 367 scheduled laps. The biggest chunk of progress was made when the Doublemint pit crew executed a flawless two-tire stop under caution on lap 45 and improved Busch's position from 24th to 15th. By lap 152, Busch was in the top-three behind JGR teammate and eventual race-winner Denny Hamlin, and Jeff Gordon. By lap 205, he was in the rearview mirror of pole-sitter and race-leader Jamie McMurray when he slingshot past him for first place. That is where Busch stayed for the next 23 tours of the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval before giving up the lead on a lap-228 pit stop under caution.

That is when the evening's first setback occurred for Busch and the No. 18 team. He reported a left-rear tire going flat while still under caution on lap 229, so he pitted once more for four new tires, sending him all the way back to 24th place on a lap-232 restart.

Once again, Busch charged toward the front, racing his way back into the top-10 by the time the caution flag flew again on lap 281. He was ninth when he pitted for two tires and fuel on lap 283, and quick work once again by the Doublemint crew vaulted Busch all the way back into the lead. This time, however, Busch could hang onto the top spot for only six laps before Hamlin powered his way past and maintained a hefty margin over Busch and the rest of the field.

Determined to make one final attempt to get past Hamlin down the stretch, Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers called for some significant adjustments on the evening's final round of pit stops under caution with 23 laps to go. The changes turned out to hinder and not help Busch's ability to move forward the rest of the way as he restarted second behind Hamlin but dropped spot after spot over the stretch before settling for his final finishing position of seventh.

"We just needed to tighten it up," said Busch, who was the youngest Sprint Cup winner in series history when he scored a victory at Darlington in 2008. "We were too loose on the get-go of runs and I couldn't hang with the 11 (Hamlin). So, to try to beat him, we made a change. We just went too far. We just got way too tight there that last run.

"Track position was so important tonight. Everybody took two (tires) at the end, they all knew how important it was. I wasn't tremendously happy with my restarts tonight and, on that last one, I fell back to third before I even got to turn one. It didn't much matter. I wasn't going to hold anybody off.

"Still, I have to hand it to the crew. They did a tremendous job in the pits tonight and we gutted it out for a solid top-10 finish after starting from the back. We'll take this and move on to Dover."

Busch's JGR teammates -- Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano -- finished first and 27th, respectively. Hamlin led four times for 104 laps en route to his first Sprint Cup win at Darlington and his fourth top-10 finish in five career Sprint Cup starts at South Carolina track. Busch, who won last week's race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, scored his sixth top-10 this season and his third top-10 in six career Sprint Cup starts at Darlington.

Hamlin's victory in the Showtime Southern 500 was his 11th in 162 career Sprint Cup starts and his third of the season. With the victory, Hamlin completed the weekend sweep, as he won Friday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series race in a 1-2 finish with Busch. The last driver to sweep the Sprint Cup/Nationwide Series races at Darlington was Mark Martin in 1993.

Pole-sitter McMurray finished 1.908 seconds behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top-five. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton, Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were 11 caution periods for 56 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 367-lap race.

With 11 of 36 races in the books, Busch remained in third place with 1,509 points in the championship standings, 113 markers back of leader Kevin Harvick. With the victory, Hamlin gained one spot to climb to sixth in points where he has 1,458 points, 164 markers arrears Harvick. Logano fell two spots to 19th and has 1,198 points, 424 markers back.

The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the May 16 Autism Speaks 400 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The race starts at 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at noon.

-source: ajr / tsc

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya