SOLID SECOND SENDS BUSCH SAILING INTO CHASE M&M's Driver Can't Run Down Teammate Hamlin; Finishes.537 of a Second Behind For the final 60 laps of Saturday night's Air Guard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, the question asked by 100,000 people...
SOLID SECOND SENDS BUSCH SAILING INTO CHASE
M&M's Driver Can't Run Down Teammate Hamlin; Finishes.537 of a Second Behind
For the final 60 laps of Saturday night's Air Guard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, the question asked by 100,000 people at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway was, "Can he catch him?"
The "he" was Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M's Toyota Camry, while the "him" was his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, pilot of the No. 11 Toyota.
In a brilliant display of driving by two of the best young superstars in NASCAR, Busch chased Hamlin for 45 miles, weaving in and out of traffic and using every inch of pavement available to him. Unfortunately for Busch and the M&M's team, they came up just .537 of a second short when the checkered flag flew.
"It was a good night for us all around," said Busch, who has 10 top-five finishes in 12 starts at Richmond. "It started out a little rough yesterday, qualifying 32nd, but we were able to rebound well and climbed up to the front steadily and methodically. The M&M's guys did great on pit road and Dave (Rogers, crew chief) worked a lot on the car last night and this morning, getting it prepared and ready for today and making some changes. I'm really proud of his effort and the way the guys thought about things and really gave me a good piece tonight to come out and run so well.
"I felt like the 11 (Hamlin) was just a step ahead of us tonight and they deserved to win. They gave us our air pressure that we started running about mid-race, and we really started clicking off and going forward. It was good. We can't be disappointed in a second tonight. We wanted to win and we fought hard with Denny, but raced clean and made sure that the Gibbs cars had a good, solid night, so that we have everything on our side heading into the Chase here next weekend."
Despite coming up just short in the race, Busch leaves Richmond solidly in NASCAR's 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship -- something he missed out on one year ago by just eight points.
"We're solidly in the Chase this year," Busch said. "We had some struggle points early on in the season. We were kind of blank, and then we came on a little bit more toward the spring months and then we kind of fell off a little bit. And now, we are picking back up a little. Hopefully, we can carry it on for 10 weeks. We see trends for eight or nine weeks where guys can keep it going, but I'm looking forward to it. We have a good shot at it and I can't discount us one bit. I'm hoping we can run strong and hard and chase these guys down."
The third member of JGR, Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry, finished a solid fourth, marking the first time since Logano joined the team fulltime in 2009 that all three drivers finished in the top-five.
Hamlin led six times for 251 laps to score the 14th victory of his Sprint Cup career, his series-high sixth of the season and his second at Richmond. The win was especially meaningful to Hamlin as he grew up in Chesterfield, Va., just 22 miles from Richmond International Raceway.
Busch was second, while four-time and reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, Logano and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top-five. Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, A.J. Allmendinger, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were three caution periods for 28 laps, with five drivers failing to finish the 400-lap race.
With 26 of 36 races in the books, the regular season is now complete and both Hamlin and Busch qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Busch finished the regular season second in the standings with 3,495 points. Hamlin finished the regular season ninth in the standings with 3,342 markers. Logano is 21st in the standings with 2,878 points.
This is Hamlin's fifth appearance in the Chase, with a best finish of third in 2006, his first full season of Sprint Cup Series competition. Busch is competing in the Chase for the fourth time and his best result came via a fifth-place finish in 2007.