Kyle Busch is never satisfied unless he ends up in Victory Lane. But on Sunday (March 23) at Martinsville Speedway, third-place was about as good as it was going to get for Rowdy.
“More raw speed” is what the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry needed to contend for a win in the STP 500.
“We were just kind of off a little bit,” he said. “We didn’t qualify good and I didn’t think we were very good in practice. Not as good as we typically are here. Just lacking a little bit of something. From where we ran (at the) midway point of the race to where we finished there, that was a really good turnaround. I’m thankful to have (crew chief) Adam Stevens and all of my guys that work so hard for me and give me everything I need here for this M&M’s Camry to stay up front and be up front and come home with a top five again here at Martinsville.”
The whopping eighth consecutive top five finish at the paperclip didn’t come easy though. The start of the weekend was un-JGR like, as they unloaded slower than normal.
“Even when we unloaded here in practice, we just weren’t quite up on the speed charts like we expected to be. First run off the truck was really good, but as the track took rubber, our car just kind of slowed down and we just didn’t have what we needed there.”
“Overall, though, today the midpoint day of today’s race was a bit ugly for us,” he said. “And then we turned it around, and thankful to have Adam Stevens and all my guys that give me everything that I need to kind of go out there and work with, and we were able to turn our day around. Fast pit stops got us a lot of track position today. It was hard to pass, besides rooting a guy off the bottom, and even when you tried to do that, they just cut your nose off and you lose a spot.”
That was a common theme for Busch throughout the 500-lap event. Being so tough to pass, the bump-and-run was thought of more, but rarely executed well enough to complete the manuever.
“I had a nose underneath the No. 2 (Brad Keselowski) in the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4 and he just chopped my nose off,” he said. “Normally when you hit a guy, they move out of the way. Instead it seemed like my car needed to move out of the way. Then the No. 9 (Elliott) got by me so we ended up finishing third. That was a hell of a lot better day than we probably should have had. We made the most of our opportunity […] not a finish that we wanted to get. Thought we had a chance to win actually, but could have been a whole lot worse.”
Busch credited his Joe Gibbs Racing team for the turnaround from the beginning of the weekend, and their diligence proved dividends.
“It’s definitely the team,” he said. “I could only do so much there for awhile when I was out there with my hands full in the middle of the race running 12th. It’s about communication. I have a hand in that and being able to talk to my crew chief. I’m thankful to have Adam Stevens on the box and he made some smart changes for the second half of the race. It got us way better. The pit crew was awesome today too. I think we picked up like 12 spots on pit road today so that was a huge help because you couldn’t pass on the race track.”
Busch will look to add to his impressive track record at Texas Motor Speedway next weekend. The O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 is scheduled to go green on Sunday, March 31 at 3:30 p.m. ET.
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