Kyle Busch and the No. 54 Monster Energy team won Friday night’s VFW Sports Clip 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. The victory was Busch’s 56th in 252 series starts and the team’s fifth series win and seventh top-10 finish in nine starts this season. Busch accomplished the win from the pole position, the last driver to accomplish the feat, previously doing it in 2011.
For the second time this year, the No. 54 team accomplished a victory from the pole-qualifying position, previously mastered at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway, Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA and now Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. Busch started from the pole in Darlington and led the field four times for 107 of the 147-lap event.
The race started smoothly for Busch and his black machine, taking the green flag and remaining in first place through the first of four caution periods. During the second yellow-flag of the race, crew chief Adam Stevens called his driver down pit road where the team replenished Sunoco fuel, Goodyear tires and made some car adjustments. Unfortunately the crew’s jack man slipped on dust in the pit box and the team lost a few spots driving off pit road.
Once back to green-flag conditions Busch worked his way from fifth place to second place within 10 laps, then taking over the lead again on lap 82 of 147, from teammate Matt Kenseth. Another pit stop would give the crew a chance to address the No. 54’s loose-handling condition with further car adjustments. But it was the pit stop towards the end of the race, within 30 laps to go that was a key decision. While Busch and crew chief Stevens discussed whether two tires or four tires would be an advantage, they knew paying attention to the No. 18 of Kenseth would be important. Once they saw their fellow JGR teammate hit pit road, the No. 54 team also visited the pit stop area and made a gutsy call to replace four tires that Busch felt would ensure the best possibility of winning.
In the final laps of the race, Busch felt secure in his decision to pit for four tires. While he did contend with former JGR teammate Joey Logano, Busch eventually passed him and then maintained the lead until the end.
Upon completion of victory lane activities Busch described his excitement from the night, “The guys gave me a great race car and there towards the middle part of the race it was really starting to get loose and had to make a lot of adjustments to it. This Monster Energy Camry tonight was awesome and the guys did a great job. I really appreciate Monster Energy, Toyota and Nationwide Insurance – they’re all awesome. JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) Engines – Mark Cronquist (engine builder) did a great job for us and appreciate the fans as well…gave them a little treat tonight.”
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 20 points.
Elliott Sadler, Brian Vickers, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth filled out the top-five finishing positions. There were four caution periods for 17 laps of the race along with 10 lead changes across eight drivers.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series competes again on May 25 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in the DRIVE4COPD 300 race on Saturday, with television broadcast starting at 2:30 p.m. EST on ABC. Kyle Busch will make his ninth start behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.