Leading up to the final stint of the Bass Pro Shops NRA 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Kurt Busch was a non-factor, hovering outside the top 10. However, when crew chief Tony Gibson called him to pit road, the No. 41 car jumped up on the scoring pylon.
The five-time Bristol victor had a tough Friday, preparing for his 600th start in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The No. 41 car unloaded 14th off the truck in opening practice, only to turn the 25th quickest time in the final session. When qualifying came, he failed to make the second round in 25th.
Busch raced his way up to 14th after the opening 125 laps. By lap 250, the cutoff mark of the second stage, the No. 41 car slotted in 12th. But the 2004 series champion knew that the track would come to him during the second half of the event.
“We’ve been struggling with the VHT on the bottom, so I just knew we needed to wait and wait and wait, and I was hopeful at lap 250 that it would come to us,” Busch said of finishing fifth. “I pushed it too hard then and got some right-front tire damage on the fender. We had to work through that, but I think at the end we got in position because Tony Gibson made a good call and put us on fresher tires than the competition and it was the old fun Bristol for me.”
About halfway through the final stage, Busch smacked the outside wall on the backstretch, making contact with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Clint Bowyer. With the damage, the No. 41 car fell toward the tail-end of the lead lap.
When a caution came out for Landon Cassill spinning into the inside wall, just to come up the track and slam the outside barrier, Busch’s race turned around when pitting.
“I felt like we were in good position because of Tony Gibson’s good pit call to give me the fresh tires and to go hard with 80 laps to go,” Busch said. “It was fun knifing through the leaders. We got to fourth and it was like I ran out of mojo, but I’m really happy with my 600th start to sniff the lead with 50 to go and get beat by the same team cars.
“I was trying to pace the car. The Monster Energy Ford loved the top side. The VHT, the grip, we just struggled since they started putting it down. After reviewing tape and going old school, I figured we run that top groove after halfway, burn it in and chase them down. I just went too hard too soon.”
The fifth-place finish was Busch’s third top-five result of 2017. He kicked off the season with a bang by winning the Daytona 500. His only other top five prior to Saturday evening was a fourth-place finish at Pocono in the beginning of June.
As for Busch’s 600th start in the Cup Series, he’s delighted to have made it this long in the top division of NASCAR.
“It means that I did okay,” Busch said of what the start meant to him. “I’m not an old bull. I’m ready to fight these young guys and put up a good battle. If we run like this in the playoffs we’ll be good.”
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