Kyle Busch recovered from an early-race spin to finish an impressive second in the TUMS Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), lined up second outside of Jimmie Johnson for the final restart with five laps remaining but couldn’t quite make the pass. Busch finished just .479 of a second out of first place.
“I can’t say enough about the effort of the guys on the M&M’s Halloween Camry,” said Busch, who scored his best career finish at Martinsville and has six top-five finishes in 15 starts. “So close, yet so far away it seems like here at Martinsville time and time again. Jimmie did a good job. He’s a five-time champion for a reason. I was getting into (turn) one, and got to his rear bumper. I didn’t want to move him out of the way. He slowed the corner down, protected the bottom. When I went back to the gas, I spun my tires and got loose, he squirted away from me. No chance of getting back to him in (turns) three and four.”
Busch started third and was in the top-10 for much of the early part of the event until lap 150 when he cut a right-rear tire and spun in turn three. His car didn’t make contact with the SAFER Barrier or another car, and Busch brought the No. 18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota Camry to pit road for inspection by crew chief Dave Rogers and the M&M’s team.
“We struggled early and got behind a little bit,” Busch said. “We spun out there but were able to work on it and get ourselves a pretty decent car.”
While Rogers’ adjustments helped the handling of the M&M’s Toyota, falling temperatures provided more grip for Busch, allowing Busch to become a mainstay in the top five.
“Earlier in the race, it was kind of hot, a little bit slick; the rubber was being put down,” Busch said. “We were sliding on the surface a little bit more than we wanted to. There late in the going, last 100, 150 laps, it cooled off. The track was faster. You just had to know you could pick up a little bit of speed and hustle the car a little bit more, yet still get yourself in trouble with overheating the brakes and everything else. You had to be on top of all that, doing a good job.
“I felt like I could run with those guys for the first few laps, then fall away, let them go, keep my stuff cool in case it did turn into a long run, that I could come up there in the long haul and pressure them there at the end.”
While Busch likes to win every time he straps in the car, he was especially hoping to get to victory lane at Martinsville in memory of Raine Angelley, who passed away last week at age 21.
“We worked as hard as we could and we had an angel riding with us today and weren’t able to capitalize for Raine and his family, the loss they had earlier this week,” Busch said. “Raine was a kid Samantha (wife) and I took under our wings about a year ago. He had kidney issues and liver issues and passed away this week. It’s heavy hearts for all of us. Wish we could have won him one.”
Busch’s JGR teammates – Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry, – finished 16th and 33rd, respectively.
Johnson’s victory in the TUMS Fast Relief 500 was his 59th career Sprint Cup victory, his fourth of the season and his seventh at Martinsville. The win gave Johnson a two-point lead over Brad Keselowski in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Busch was second, while Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five. Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers, Bobby Labonte and Greg Biffle comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 64 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.
Hamlin is representing JGR in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup. The electrical problem that left Hamlin with a 33rd-place finish dropped him two positions in the point standings to fifth place with 2,242 points, 49 points behind new Chase leader Johnson.
Busch maintained 13th in the standings with 1,006 points, 69 ahead of 14th-place Carl Edwards. Logano gained one position and sits 17th with 885 points, 121 points behind Busch in 13th. Since they are not Chase participants, Busch and Logano can finish no higher than 13th.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule – the eighth race of the 10-race Chase – is the AAA Texas 500 on Nov. 4 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The race begins at 3 p.m. EST, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with a pre-race show at 2 p.m.