The matte black Monster Energy Camry hosted a new driver in the No. 54 seat this week, 26-year-old Drew Herring, a familiar face in the Joe Gibbs Racing portfolio of developmental drivers. Herring, a shop employee who strives to become a regular driver on the NASCAR circuit, completed driving duties at Iowa Speedway in Newton while regular team driver Kyle Busch competed at Pocono (PA) Raceway the same day. After fighting inclement weather in the region, which resulted in a rescheduled event from Saturday night to Sunday morning, the No. 54 Monster Energy team battled not only sky conditions, but also changing car conditions, which resulted in an 11th-place finish for them in week 12 of the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
Herring qualified on Friday in ninth place for the 218.75-mile Dupont Pioneer 250 race originally scheduled for Saturday night, but delayed, due to rain that prohibited the series from racing until Sunday morning. Upon green-flag start, the team was encouraged as Herring immediately made his way past competitors, on a track that’s difficult to pass on, reaching seventh place by lap three when the first event caution flew. The North Carolina native confirmed to his crew chief that his Toyota ‘felt good’ and that he was able to settle into the race.
From sixth place, under another event caution on lap 51, crew chief Adam Stevens asked his driver for a car report. “I’m free into the corner, tight through the center and free on exit,” described Herring. With the feedback, Stevens instructed his crew to replace four tires with air pressure adjustments and replenish the No. 54 with Sunoco race fuel. The team returned to the racetrack in 12th place.
Back into the top-10 by lap 60, the Monster Energy team was feeling good about their progress although Herring described the car as being too loose. “It was all I could do to keep from spinning,” he said. Despite the difficult car feel, Herring was still able to make passes on his competitors, and drove his way up to the eighth spot where he remained, for over 60 laps, during a long green-flag run.
The young driver made an important communication to his team on lap 128 when he reported feeling a vibration in the front of his Camry. After discussing the uncertain condition with Stevens, the two decided to bring the car to pit road while under green flag, to change tires. The pit road visit put the No. 54 team back into the 21st position after the stop was made, but for good reason, the front right tire was actually going away, showing exposed beading. The driver and crew made a good decision to pit, thus avoiding what could have been a more serious consequence, a blown tire.
One more event yellow at lap 150 gave the driver and crew additional time to discuss the car’s condition. Herring asked for more stability on entry into the turns. The team pitted for tires, fuel and trackbar adjustments which placed Herring back on track in 11th place.
The team was focused on making up some spots on track when a fast-moving thunderstorm poured rain on the Iowa short track, pausing race action, once again, for over an hour. Once back to green, Herring quickly moved from 12th-place to 11th until another event caution waved. The crew made a visit to pit road, this time without tire changes, but with further trackbar and wedge adjustments to the car chassis. While in the pit, the crew discovered there was slight nose damage to the machine after Herring battled on track during the last restart. The team made two visits to their pit box, while still under caution, to double-check any further repairs needed.
Before the green-flag restart NASCAR officials notified the No. 54 team they “pitted out of order,” which caused them to drop to the rear of the field when the race resumed on lap 178. Herring was in 19th place, but calmly picked through the lineup. Over the last 70 laps the event remained caution free and the Toyota driver gained eight spots to bring the Monster Energy Camry home in 11th.
“I’m very thankful for the opportunity and privilege to drive the No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota this weekend. Unfortunately, the result wasn’t what we were looking for but I feel like we learned some valuable lessons that we can apply the second trip to Iowa and we can be much better. I can’t thank Adam Stevens and the guys enough for their hard work all weekend. It’s always fun to race with those guys. It’s behind us now and we will focus on being even more prepared for the second trip to Iowa this fall.”
The No. 54 Monster Energy team owned by J.D. Gibbs maintains first place in the Owner’s Point standings, now leading the No. 7 of Kelley Earnhardt-Miller by 36 points.
Trevor Bayne won the event, followed by Austin Dillon, Elliott Sadler, Sam Hornish Jr. and Kyle Larson. There were five caution periods for 31 laps of the race along with 12 lead changes across four drivers.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series competes again on June 15 in the Alliance Truck Parts 250 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, with television broadcast starting at 2:00pm ET on ABC. Kyle Busch will make his 11th start behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.
-Kyle Busch Motorsports PR