Kyle Busch still hasn’t won a Chase race during his career but on Saturday night he came the closest he could. Busch dominated the second half of the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte and looked to be headed toward his fifth win of the year until a few late race cautions changed everything.
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”248″][/media-credit]“It was a good race for us,” said Busch following his second place finish. “Certainly we started pretty deep in the field and made our way up through there slowly and steadily, but it was really tough to pass and make up ground. You could be two-tenths faster than the guy in front of you and run him down and catch him and slow down and just get stuck.”
Busch said drivers had to be creative in order to pass. After qualifying 25th yet starting at the rear of the field because of an engine change, the No. 18 made his way through the field as patiently as he could. The lack of passing though started to cause some frustration for Busch as he vented over the radio but through cautions and pit strategy he got out front and didn’t look back. Busch would lead the most laps, 110 of 334.
“I don’t think we made a change to the car all night,” he said. “We just kept running with it and just kept letting the race play out, and let it do what it was supposed to. Low and behold we thought we were going to win and you get down to all these late restarts and give it away.”
Crew chief Dave Rogers complimented his driver on the performance, saying Busch did a tremendous job being patient. Knowing they had a fast car Busch just had to take care of his part on the track while the crew did theirs on pit road. Rogers says they ‘nailed it’ in every aspect from being solid and fast over the wall to making the right calls.
“I was thinking four [tires] and they were both tugging on my shirt and saying no, no we need two, let’s get track position,” Rogers said of his engineers. “It seemed to be the way to go. So, total team effort. I really wish we could have gotten the win. Kyle loves Charlotte Motor Speedway, and we would love to be in the media center celebrating right now. To start 43rd and finish second, I don’t think we can complain about that.”
For the second straight night Busch came up one position short and to a Ford no less, a Roush Fenway Ford. After stating on Friday that he felt they had superior power, Matt Kenseth charged in the final few laps to catch and pass Busch for the lead. Then he held him off during a fury of late race cautions.
Left balancing the frustration of not closing out the race, yet bringing home a decent finish, Busch said he was glad the team finished where they should have. The first four races of the Chase haven’t played out like the Joe Gibbs Racing team anticipated after having another solid regular season. At Charlotte, the whole package almost came together.
“Just got out-drove there by Kenseth on the restart,” Busch said. “He just flat out drove right past me like I was standing still. The frustration is, again, we did not finish where we wanted to, which could have been a real win, a real highlight.”
Then of course, comes the fact that Busch knows he still hasn’t won in the Chase. Something he says he’ll keep hearing about but hopes to end soon. Perhaps next week at Talladega where he’s won before or at Martinsville two weeks from now where he’s steadily improved.
More importantly however, Busch gained four positions in the Chase standings. He’s now just 18 points behind with five races left in the 2011 season. It means winning a Cup race at Charlotte for the first time will have to wait but he showed on Saturday that even when starting last he can still be a contender and he’ll have fun proving it.
“There was a point in which the leader was going into [turn] one and I was coming off of [turn] two,” said Busch of early in the race, “so, that kind of leaves you a little bit worrisome. But you just have to let it play out. Certainly there’s going to be some cautions in there that will allow the field to bunch back up and everything like that. It’s all fun I guess when you can start back there and run well.”
And while Busch knew that there was the potential he could get caught up in a wreck like a few of his fellow Chase contenders, Busch made sure he was careful. Seeing others in front of him get out of shape kept him on his toes and didn’t help his nerves as he made his way to the front. Even at the front though there were still a few close moments.
“There was a couple of cars that came off turn four within the first 10 laps pulling sideways and I don’t know how they didn’t wreck,” he said. “I was checking up to see what was going to happen, whether they were going to go shooting through the grass or keep it straight … but overall, that’s just a product of racing.”