Kyle Busch and the No. 54 Monster Energy team not only won Saturday night’s CNBC Prime’s the Profit 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS), but dominated it, leading 141 circuits of the eventual 213-lap event. The Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) No. 54 team continued their successful path, with the first-place finish, by recording their seventh victory in 17 events run so far this year.
Already the winningest series driver, Busch recorded his 58th victory in 258 starts and his fourth-career win at the 1.058-mile track. Busch is the only driver to earn victory in more than one series at NHMS. For the fourth time this season, Busch accomplished the team’s win from the pole-starting position, the 29th pole of his Nationwide Series career. The feat tied him with veteran Sam Ard for the most pole-to-victory wins in a race season. Another accomplishment earned in Saturday’s event, Busch surpassed his 12,000th lap led in the series, over his career, now registering 12,085, with 1, 114 of those laps led this season alone.
Busch led the field to the green flag upon start and quickly pulled ahead of his competitors, at one point advancing three seconds ahead of the field. At lap 29 of the scheduled 200-lap event, the Monster Energy driver relayed to his crew, “We started off good, the car turns the way we want it too, we’re good!” The event’s first caution period waved at lap 35 and the JGR No. 54 team visited pit road for a two-tire change and fuel, but no car adjustments, per Busch’s previous feedback that the car’s handling was good. The pit stop didn’t go as planned, however, when the crew hit the fender as they placed one of the wheels on the stud, unable to conduct a clean stop. The added time on pit lane left the Toyota team in seventh place for the event’s green-flag restart on lap 40.
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Brian Vickers and Matt Kenseth had taken over the top-two spots at the front of the field, trading places at times, becoming the only other leaders of the race besides Busch. The No. 54 team and driver were quiet over the radio while Busch picked at his front runners, taking sixth-place at lap 42, third-place at lap 52 and then back to second-place at lap 70. The Monster Energy athlete described his Camry, “I’m edgy. I lose nose and rear chasing him (No. 20 Vickers) down.”
Due to the rough track surface and challenging configuration of New England’s “Magic Mile” it took Busch another 37 laps until he cleanly passed his teammate Vickers, in the No. 20 car, and resumed the race lead. Under green-flag conditions the team opted to visit pit road for a second time and replaced four Goodyear tires and fuel, without any issues. The black and green machine remained in first-place.
When 75 laps remained, crew chief Adam Stevens began reminding his masterful driver, “Take care of it, that’s all you got!” Stevens anticipated from this track’s event history, ultimate late-race cautions and eventual fuel strategy come into play. At this point Busch’s JGR teammates had endured other race hurdles and fell back in the field, while the No. 3 of Austin Dillon presented the only challenge to the No. 54 leader. Busch, however, remained ahead of the field through another event-yellow period and subsequent restart at lap 148, still in first-place after all teams cycled through pit stops.
Another reminder from Stevens, “Take care of it, don’t use more than you need, in case of green-white-checkers,” kept the idea in Busch’s head to save gas where possible, as they knew this would play to their benefit in the end. The already six-time winning crew anticipated correctly, as they watched their strategy play out in the last few laps of the race. With two laps remaining and before the white flag could wave, the field endured a caution period with Busch still in first place. Driver and team were concerned about what fuel they had remaining in their Toyota, but would not visit pit road. The majority of the field took the same gamble and remained on track to maintain their positions.
What was hoped to be the final restart didn’t happen. Two subsequent caution periods with accidents on track, caused the field to slow again. The last caution period, fortunately, yielded a red-flag stop allowing the competitors to halt and ultimately save whatever fuel they had left in their tanks. The final restart was nerve-racking, not only for the leading No. 54 team but for most of the competitors in the same position, not knowing how much gas was remaining to bring them to the checkered flag. Fortunately Busch and the No. 54 JGR team had strategized correctly. The third green-white-checkered restart was fulfilled and the Monster Energy Camry took the checkered flag – with enough fuel in reserve to produce some ‘donuts’ for the fans.
Upon celebration from victory lane activities, Busch described his day to the media, “New Hampshire has been a good track for us. Unfortunately, I thought we had a good car last year, but had some fuel pickup problems, so I wasn’t able to run the whole race. But, all in all, great to be back in victory lane here at Loudon (N.H.). Just a tough race, especially passing people here. When I got back in traffic there after our bad pit stop it took me a little bit to pass the leader and it was really tough, especially being a teammate — you don’t want to get into them, rough them up any way.”
Busch continued, “Fuel was a concern of course, at the end of the race for everybody. You just never know how much you’re saving when you’re out there running around making laps. I felt like I was doing a good job of rolling out of the gas early and just letting the car roll when I was out there leading and just trying to protect everything I had — save fuel, save brakes, save tires in case there were late cautions there I could get out and get a jump on everybody and be able to have something to race with. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) kept saying on the radio in case there is a green-white-checker finish to have something left to go race at the end. I think that all just compounded. I bet you there are still probably a couple gallons left. Felt like that worked out for us and it was really good. We had a really fast car.”
The No. 54 Monster Energy team owned by J.D. Gibbs maintains first place in the Owner’s Point standings, now leading the No. 22 of Penske Racing by 51 points. Saturday’s performance earned the JGR contingency NASCAR’s 3M Lap Leader Award (141), Coors Light Pole Award (131.916mph, track record) and the Mahle Clevite Engine Builder of the Race Award (JGR Engines).
Vickers, Dillon, Brian Scott and Michael Annett filled out the top-five finishing positions. There were seven caution periods for 27 laps of the race along with six lead changes across three JGR drivers, Vickers, Kenseth and Busch who led the field three times over a race-high 141 laps. Other teammates Kenseth and Elliott Sadler finished ninth and 18th, respectively.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series competes again in the STP 300 on July 21 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, with television broadcast starting at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN. Joey Coulter will make his second start behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.
-Kyle Busch Motorsports PR