Disappointment is the word that comes to mind when summarizing the weekend for Kyle Busch Motorsports’ (KBM) crew members and their owner-driver Kyle Busch. The team battled through a variety of hurdles: hard weather conditions, a wrecked primary race car, rebuilding a backup car, making the second race car competitive with an engine transfer, achieving a good starting spot, repairing a damaged race car and racing for a win amidst a race with one-quarter of the laps run under caution. Despite all of that, things looked promising, until fuel strategy twisted the hand of fate, causing heartbreak on the final race lap, when the race leading No. 54 Monster Energy Camry ran out of gas coming off the last turn, headed to the checkered flag. The team slowed too much to maintain the lead, and stumbled across the finish line in sixth place.
On the first track day at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, NASCAR implemented an open test session, on the newly paved 1.5-mile speedway, to give teams time to adjust to the new track surface. The No. 54 team was positioned within the top-five of the field, and knew they had a fast racecar that would be competitive for the win. Late in the day, however, amidst cold and rainy weather conditions, the team put ‘sticker’ tires on Busch’s black machine while conducting some R&D runs. The car unexpectedly “snapped loose” on Busch, who ultimately hit the turn two wall and brought the severely damaged machine to the garage. The damage was too extreme to be fixed, and the KBM team brought the backup car out of the team hauler.
Over the late afternoon and through the next morning, Busch’s first-year team feverishly transferred their fast engine from the wrecked primary racecar, to the second machine, then rebuilt the car for a setup that Busch would be comfortable with. These adjustments took a lot of hard work and time, and the vigilant team completed the task in time for Busch to practice the new machine. Although further modifications were needed, the Toyota posted the sixth fastest lap and was starting to become competitive.
On race day, the team was pleased when Busch qualified the car in the sixth-place starting spot. They knew right away, however, there was more work to be done on the transformed machine, when Busch exclaimed at race start, “I’m wrecking loose.” Crew chief Mike Beam brought Busch down pit road for the first of five events stops, on lap 34, from the fifth position. Major track bar and tire pressure changes were conducted in an attempt to tighten up Busch’s Camry. A second pit road visit occurred on lap 58 of the 200-mile race, when Busch confirmed the earlier changes “helped me a good amount.” This stop the crew would not make any chassis adjustments, focusing only on tires and fuel.
During the fifth of 12 caution period restarts, the No. 54 Camry found itself in a tenuous position, when two other cars pinched Busch against the outside wall, causing damage to the lower rear bumper and rear deck lid. A subsequent yellow flag, for an accident in turn 3, gave the crew another opportunity to work on Busch’s car, this time managing body damage and refreshing four tires. The extra time on pit road moved the No. 54 team to the 23rd position but the veteran driver raced his machine back into the fourth spot by lap 110, just past the halfway mark. “Aero is actually better,” commented Busch as the team prepared for their next pit road visit.
The opportunity to make further adjustments came quickly, and the team pitted under a yellow-flag caution at lap 112 from the sixth spot. Busch advanced up to third place during the next green-flag laps, until their fifth and final pit road visit of the day happened on lap 139. The team hoped a late track bar adjustment with fuel, would give Busch the boost he was looking for. The Las Vegas native would be three laps short on fuel to the end of the race, so his crew reminded him to “save” where he could, hoping a few more caution periods would occur.
At lap 163 and again at lap 173, event caution periods allowed Busch to ‘save fuel’ with slower lap times and the ability to turn the engine off and on, to preserve fuel. At lap 176, and with a comfort the shortage of fuel had been made up, the No. 54 Toyota team took the lead and were poised for a strong finish. Then at lap 199, another event caution period occurred, waving for five laps. When the track was cleared, the field approached a green-white-checkered finish and the Monster Energy team thought there would be enough fuel to secure the victory. A subsequent restart on lap 205 would still record Busch in the lead and he proceeded to take the white flag. As Busch entered turn 3 on the final lap, what the team feared the most came to light. With one-quarter of a lap remaining, the Monster Energy machine ran out of gas. Busch drove the limping Camry onto the apron and crossed the finish line in sixth place, a heartbreaking finish to what would have been a rewarding victory for a hard-fought race weekend.
When asked about the day, post race, Busch commented, “We ran out in the middle of (turns) three and four. But, that’s our year man. Nothing else to it than that, you know. I just can’t say enough about all our guys, everybody at Monster Energy and Toyota — they do a great job for us. We’re supposed to repay them by winning races and we haven’t done that this year. What a frustrating defeat. Oh well, you get defeated sometimes.”
Stenhouse Jr. recorded his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory at Kansas Speedway. It was his sixth win of the 2012 season andeighth of his career, followed in the second-finishing spot by Austin Dillon. Joey Logano, Elliott Sadler and Cole Whitt completed the top-five finishers. There were 12 caution periods for 50 laps of the race along with 14 lead changes across six drivers, including Busch who led two times for 29 laps.
The No. 54 Monster Energy team remained eighth in the Owner’s Point standings, 161 points from the leading team owner Joe Gibbs. The next event on the NNS schedule is the Nov. 3 O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway in Forth Worth, with the television broadcast starting at 7:00 pm EST on ESPN and on the PRN radio broadcast. Kyle Busch will make his 21st start of the season behind the wheel of the KBM No. 54 Monster Energy Camry, hoping to continue the positive momentum started here in Kansas, and finish the next Nationwide Series race with a long-awaited win for his 2012 season and with his own company.