Home » FEATURE STORY, NASCAR

‘Rowdy’ Am-Busches Playoffs Field In Fort Worth

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 29 2020

Kyle Busch collected a very satisfying victory in Wednesday’s thrice-delayed Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Kyle Busch emerged as NASCAR Cup Series Playoff spoiler Wednesday evening at Texas Motor Speedway, where the two-time/reigning champion momentarily considered retiring.

Eliminated from Playoff contention after the Round of 12, Busch extended his streak of years with at least one victory to 16 via a vintage “Rowdy” performance during the 16th annual Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500. En route to Victory Lane, Busch met up with Coy Gibbs, son of team-owner Joe Gibbs and chief operating officer of Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I told Coy, I said, ‘I’m done, I’m good for the year, I’m retiring. I don’t need to go next week or the week after, I’ll just sit home.’ But no, I mean, that’s how much relief it felt like it was.”

Busch led a race-high 90 of 334 laps around TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval en route to a margin of victory of 0.468-seconds over Martin Truex Jr., his penalized JGR teammate. Rookie Christopher Bell, who will join JGR fulltime in 2021, posted a career-best third-place finish to complete a Toyota Camry podium sweep for the organization. 

A caution-free final 124 laps put a merciful cap on an event that began Sunday afternoon but was red-flagged to a halt after 52 laps because of a misty rain. Two frustrating days of weather-related delays ensued. Total downtime from Sunday to Wednesday’s green flag start at 4:10 p.m. was 72 hours, 28 minutes, 34 seconds.

The race restarted before a crowd TMS President/General Manager Eddie Gossage estimated at 1,000, including 301 hearty individuals who purchased tickets Wednesday despite 40-degree temps and wind chills in the 30s. Gossage said each fan would receive a Pit Pass from the track, and a Hot Pass from NASCAR, for use during the inaugural NASCAR All-Star Race at TMS in June 2021.

Busch took the lead for the final time from Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer _ the leader when the race was red-flagged at 3:34 p.m. Sunday_ on Lap 311 and held it to the checkered flag. Busch scored his 57th career Cup victory and fourth at TMS. More significant, however, was extending that win streak.

Kyle Busch heads to victory in Texas. It was the first win of the season for the two-time champ. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

“Really, it kind of felt like a championship win,” said Busch, driver of the No. 18 Skittles Zombie Toyota. “Yeah, it was obviously much-needed and very much a lot of relief, as well, too. For me having the opportunity to continue that win streak was certainly high on our list. When you fall out of the playoffs and you’ve got nothing else to race for, that’s all you have to race for is trophies and getting wins for the rest of this year, and it feels really good to be able to come here to Texas and score that win.

“I can’t say enough about Adam Stevens (crew chief) and Tony Hirschman (spotter), my pit crew guys and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing for all their hard work and everything that they do year-in and year-out.”

Busch won the race on fuel mileage after pitting for the last time under green on Lap 268 and running the final 66 laps down to fumes. “I came here to do a (burnout) celebration and it was out,” Busch said after exiting his car to deliver his signature bow at the start/finish line. “It’s running on the (fuel) pump, but it’s running low.”

Truex pressed Busch over the final 13 laps from second, closing to within 0.540-seconds on Lap 326 while hoping to make his teammate burn extra fuel as both carved their way through lapped traffic.

“We knew he was close,” said Truex, driver of the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Camry. “The only thing we could do at that point, which we did all day anyway, was try to run flat-out. It just seems like one of those years where we’re second, third, fourth _ we’re right there a lot.”

Truex started at the back of the field because of an illegal spoiler and lost crew chief James Small for the extended time in Texas. Truex also was docked 20 points, a crucial penalty given his point total.

To run second all day long and lead some laps is tough to do,” Truex said. “You’ve got to put yourself in position in the top two or three to win races, and so we were right there. If we’d gone…if it was one more lap, the No. 18 was probably going to run out of gas, so it just was one of those things where we were…how close can you get without winning? I’m proud of the effort.”

Truex sits seventh among the Playoff contenders, 36 points below the cutoff line and in need of a win in the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday (2 p.m. EDT, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) to advance.

“A must-win at any track, no matter how good you’ve been there in the past, I think is a challenge,” said Truex, the 2017 Cup champion with JGR. “The last race there that we ran and delete all the laps that we did, whatever, it’s no guarantee. We’ve got to work hard this week to make sure we’re prepared. I know the guys have already been doing that. So definitely optimistic. It’s a good track for us, but it’s a short track and a lot can happen on restarts and things. We’ll go there and do the best job we can.”

Reminded of Truex’s circumstance, Busch said, “I feel like crap. The No. 19 needed to win a race, obviously, in order to move on and punch their ticket to the Championship Round, and I’m that guy that spoils it for them. That was one of their best mile-and-a-half runs that they’ve had this year, just like our best mile-and-a-half run this year, arguably.

“You know, I’m thinking of that as we’re coming down to the finish, too. But I’m like, ‘I’ve got to win, man.’  Like there’s obviously no team orders and we do things straight-up and as fast as we can be, we’ve got to be. Obviously, it sucks for them, and I did think, too, that they can be really good at Martinsville, so hopefully they can go out there and do well, maybe win again. I’d like to win Martinsville.  It would really suck again if he finishes second to me, but that would be 2020, wouldn’t it?”

Busch added his reputation as a pre-race favorite anywhere he takes the command to start engines comes wrapped in corporate and self-imposed pressure.

“I guess for me, the opportunity of being able to continue the win streak is huge,” Busch said. ”I say that because there’s a lot of people that put the pressure on me, on us as the No. 18 team that we’re known _we need to win. We should win. We have to win. 

“All of that stuff kind of weighs on you a little bit, but to be honest with you, it just _ they’re right. I’m not self-touting. I have been told by many-a-folk that I’m one of the best here, that’s been here. And to have that opportunity with myself and my team and the people that are around me, to go out there and win races, it makes sense.  Like you should be able to win a race, races every year that you’re out there for a long time to come.

“Every great thing, I guess, must come to an end eventually, but man, I’m only 35.  Like I feel like I’ve got at least 10 more years left in me. There should be a great opportunity for this streak to go for a long, long time and that’s why it’s been so stressful and has not felt very good to have this dry spell.”

Team Penske’s Joey Logano, who finished 10th, remained the only Round of 8 contender locked into the Championship 4 set for Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 8. Logano earned his spot with a win at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 18.

Among the other Playoff contenders, Alex Bowman of Hendrick Motorsports finished fifth, best-in-class among the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE entries. Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski finished sixth; Kurt Busch of Chip Ganassi Racing was seventh and JGR’s Denny Hamlin placed ninth.

SHR’s Kevin Harvick and Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports finished 16th and 20th, respectively, both one-lap down, after dealing with separate handling issues.

Poles-sitter Harvick, a nine-time winner this season, battled back Wednesday after sustaining right-side damage to his No. 4 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang on Lap 29 after scraping the Turn 2 wall Sunday. The team battled through multiple vibrations Wednesday as Harvick finished as first driver one lap down. Harvick had won the previous three fall Playoff races at “The Great American Speedway.”

The top three contenders based on points exiting Texas and heading to Martinsville are Harvick, 42 points above the cutoff line; Hamlin, 27 points above the line and Keselowski, 25 above the final transfer spot. The four drivers needing a win on Martinsville’s half-mile, paperclip-shaped oval are Elliott and Bowman, each 25 points below the cutoff; Truex and Kurt Busch _ Kyle’s older brother _ 81 below.

Kyle Busch warned his brother and teammates and NASCAR Nation he fully intends to reprise his spoiler role during the season’s final two races.  

“Yeah, absolutely. That’s what we’re going to push for,” Busch said. “We want to go to Martinsville and run up-front, try to win that one, and same thing, go to Phoenix. Let’s spoil the championship party and not see the champion have to be the winner.”

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 29 2020
No Comment

Comments are closed.