After a disappointing season start at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February, and a promising run at the Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in April, the Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) team was ready to bring their restrictor-plate chassis back to the 2.5-mile high banks of Daytona. Showcasing progress made over the first half of the 2012 season, the No. 54 Monster Energy team displayed initial signs they were on target to contend for the win. After rallying from a miscue on pit road however, to run in the top five, involvement in a subsequent on-track accident caused too much car damage and lost lap time in the pits, which forced the anxious team owner-driver Kyle Busch to limp home in the 23rd position.
Similar to the scenario that played out in the season-opening race at the “World Center of Racing,” the Busch brothers aligned as drafting partners early in Friday’s 250-mile race. After Busch started from the 20th position, he hooked up with brother’s No. 1 James Finch Racing car and by lap three the two were running fifth and sixth. The brothers tossed around the top part of the field with each taking the lead at different times, switching positions to minimize overheating engine conditions. Combined, the two drivers led nine times for 18 laps of the 100-lap feature. “Make sure Kurt stays low enough that they can’t get under me,” described Busch to his team, as he worked to salvage the lead with his brother.
The race was progressing as hoped when the first miscue of the night slowed the Toyota team’s good run. On lap 42, just shy of the event’s halfway point, crew chief Mike Beam instructed his driver to bring the No. 54 machine to pit road for four fresh tires and fuel. The slower than normal stop included a mistake, when a support crew member was unable to ‘catch’ a rear tire from rolling out of the pit box. Breaking NASCAR rules for team equipment leaving the pit box area, the No. 54 team was required to conduct a pass-through penalty, causing the young Busch to restart in the 29th position.
Busch made quick work of the penalty, gaining 21 positions in three laps, to eighth, and then re-engaging with the older Busch’s No. 1 machine on lap 53. The duo ran top ten, making moves towards the lead, when on lap 65, the ‘big one’ occurred, involving both Busch brother machines. Pack racing at high speeds traditionally causes these types of accidents where multiple cars are damaged.
Under the yellow-caution flag for track cleanup, the No. 54 car pitted four times over the next five laps, desperately working to repair nose damage. Busch felt an unknown vibration and the crew worked hard to determine the source, while maintaining their position on the lead lap.
When the field went back to green however on lap 72, Busch knew something was wrong and immediately brought his black machine into the closest garage area for repairs. The team determined something was broken, but they couldn’t visually determine the source. The chassis was riding ½ inch too low but the “tow” of the car was in place, and now there was a flat rear tire to examine. Feverishly moving equipment from their pit area to the garage, the Monster Energy crew tackled the damaged Camry. Seven laps were lost to the field, due to garage repairs, and the No. 54 made it back on track with 20 laps remaining in the event.
Now running in the 27th position, Busch’s car was damaged, but still able to run fast lap times with the race leaders. The Monster Energy team athlete would gain a few more spots before race end, as the field experienced two more caution periods, including a green-white-checkered finish. Crossing the finish line 23rd Busch thought the drama of Daytona was over, only to be mistaken when one last incident occurred as the checkered-flag dropped. While cars scrambled to finalize their positions, the No. 3 car of Austin Dillon lost control in the path of Busch, who worked to avoid the unstable competitor, but could not miss the impact.
To add insult to injury, the KBM team loaded another destroyed race car from Daytona, squashing their hopes of victory yet again. Monster Energy team athlete Kurt Busch went on to achieve the win with his No. 1 team. The No. 54 crew looks to repair equipment now and will tackle the ‘Super Bowl’ of NASCAR again next February.
Busch recorded his fifth career Nationwide Series win and second of the season. Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Michael Annett, Dillon and Joey Logano completed the top-five finishers. There were five caution periods for 24 laps of the race along with 42 lead changes across 16 drivers.
After completing 16 starts, the No. 54 Monster Energy team remains eighth in the Owner’s Point standings, 89 points from first.
The Nationwide Series continues action July 14 with the F.W. Webb 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. The television broadcast will start at 2:30pm EST on ESPN and the PRN radio broadcast. Kyle Busch will return to defend his title in Loudon, NH with his ninth start of the season behind the wheel of the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.