On a cool late summer night, at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, Kyle Busch posted his 16th top-five finish in 19 races this year, with the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Monster Energy team. Busch and crew fought an ill-handling race car all day, from practice early Friday morning when they paced the field 21st quick, through qualifying that afternoon where he secured a seventh-place starting spot with a 21.857 second lap at 123.530 mph. In the main event, Busch raced as high as second-place at one point, but bounced among the top-10 most of the night, to bring home the black and green machine in seventh place.
Upon taking the green flag Busch immediately began giving his crew feedback on the car’s handling. “I’m tight in the center, have no rear lateral and it isn’t turning in the front,” described the Las Vegas native who has already chalked up nine wins this season with this No. 54 JGR team. The team spotter Tony Hirschman quickly noticed the Toyota was also showing more front brake ‘glow’ than other teams – something they would keep an eye on through the race.
Lap 14 displayed the first of seven caution periods for the event and the team elected to remain on track, foregoing a pit road visit. The car balance started to become unbearable, however, for the series champion hoping to turn his night around for a good result in the 1,000th NASCAR Nationwide Series event. By lap 69 the team took the opportunity to pit under another event yellow flag and crew chief Adam Stevens elected to take a swing at the car’s track bar setting. The crew quickly replenished Sunoco fuel and Goodyear tires, as well as made the chassis adjustment, to settle down the No. 54’s handling.
The crew examined their Goodyear tires upon completion of the pit road visit and found a great deal of brake dust on the wheels, but nothing that cautioned them.
After the subsequent race restart, on lap 73 from the sixth position, Busch relayed more positive feedback to his team, “Whatever you did on rear lateral was good, keep working it, just make sure I can still turn.” Over halfway to go in the race, and during another event caution period, Busch brought his Camry to pit road from the fifth-place spot to receive further track bar adjustments along with tires and fuel. “We are on the edge of our pit window,” claimed Stevens. He relayed, “Save fuel please where you can under caution.”
During the next portion of the race Busch exhibited fast lap times, battled for the third-place position and achieved it. After another pit road visit with air-pressure adjustments made to the tires and more fuel given, the No. 54 team worked its way to the second-place spot on lap 180, what would end up being their highest position of the night. While the move from third-place to second-place was good for the No. 54 team, Busch’s maneuver caused JGR teammate Matt Kenseth’s No. 18 car to move out of line. Busch apologized over the radio, “I’m sorry if I messed up the No. 18. I feel bad.”
While it appeared the Monster Energy team could end up salvaging a good finish, perhaps the win, their fate was ultimately sealed when two subsequent yellow-flag cautions provided green-flag restarts, that jumbled up the field, with a negative effect on the No. 54. Stuck behind slower cars, then forced to attempt progress in the outside lane, Busch worked hard to improve his position, but came up short in the end. The JGR team completed the short-track event in the fourth-place spot, their 17th top-five finish of the season. Victory evaded the team this week, but they are encouraged to try again over eight remaining weeks.
Busch didn’t have much to say post-race commenting, “We weren’t good today. Have some work to do these last few weeks.”
Brad Keselowski won the Richmond event, his 25th victory in 201 NASCAR Nationwide Series races. Brian Scott led a race-high 239 of 250 laps but finished in second place, while Regan Smith, Busch and Trevor Bayne completed the top-five finishers. There were seven caution periods for 35 laps of the race along with one lead change among two drivers.
The No. 54 Camry owned by J.D. Gibbs remains second in the Owner’s Point standings, now 18 points from the lead.
The next event on the Nationwide Series schedule is the Dollar General 300 presented by Coca Cola on Saturday, September 14th at Chicagoland (Ill.) Speedway with the race television broadcast starting at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. Busch will make his 20th start of the season behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.