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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Truckin’ Thursdays: The Kyle Busch Motorsports Shuffle

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It’s been no secret in recent years that Kyle Busch Motorsports has turned itself into one of the top Gander Outdoors Truck Series teams with the ability to win on any given race day.

After all, the organization has scored two driver championships with Erik Jones and Christopher Bell since its debut in 2010. Additionally, KBM has turned out drivers like William Byron, Noah Gragson, Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace. In fact, Byron may have been able to win the Truck Series championship in 2016 if not for an expired motor at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.

LUNKENHEIMER: MAKING A HALL OF FAME CASE FOR OWNER KYLE BUSCH

But this season, while Busch won in all five of his Truck Series starts, Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland, the organization’s two full-time drivers, have yet to find victory lane. And frankly, they haven’t been all that close either. The duo has just three top fives and eight top 10s in a combined 16 series starts so far in 2019. Add in three DNFs and an average finish outside the top 10 for both drivers, and you can understand the team owner’s assessment of their performance.

“We aren’t doing anything,” Gilliland told Frontstretch at Memphis International Raceway, where the K&N Pro Series East raced last weekend, in response to Busch’s assessment. “We’re running bad, and that’s obviously not what you’re expected to do and not what I expect to do in Kyle Busch Motorsports stuff […] Kyle is one of the best of all-time. When he tells the team to do something, they listen. Chemistry is everything. People believe in him, and I need people to believe in me like they do with him.”

SEGAL: TODD GILLILAND RESPONDS TO KYLE BUSCH’S CRITICISM

It’s not the first time Gilliland has faced criticism from the owner/driver either. In February at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Busch was critical of the sophomore driver’s performance and even went as far as saying, “His career is on the line.” He did refer to a couple of close calls Gilliland had during his rookie season where he could — and likely should — have won, while also saying, “He’s got to show up this year and make it happen.”

“If you want to be a star in this sport, you better perform in KBM stuff,” Busch said. “If you don’t, sorry, man, there’s not much left for you.”

When the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend after a few weeks off, Gilliland will do so with a different crew chief atop the pit box. Marcus Richmond, who has led the No. 4 team since last season, will move over to crew chief for Riley Herbst and the No. 46 Toyota at Iowa Speedway and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway the next two weeks. Meanwhile, a shop foreman, Wes Ward, will hop atop the pit box for Gilliland this weekend. In the series’ next two races, Michael Shelton, the previous crew chief for the No. 46 team, will step in.

 

In addition to those crew chief changes, KBM will welcome Greg Biffle back to the NASCAR fold Friday night (June 7). He hasn’t made a Truck Series start since 2004 when he finished eighth at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Earlier this year, the organization announced the veteran would pilot the No. 51 Toyota in a single race at Texas.

“As we were putting the finishing touches on our driver lineup for this year, we found ourselves looking for someone to drive the No. 51 Tundra in the June race, and we are fortunate to be putting a driver of Greg’s caliber behind the wheel,” Busch said earlier this season. “I’ve been friends with Greg for a long time, and we’ve always joked about how it would be cool for him to drive trucks again. When this opportunity came about, the talks got serious and we both decided it was a smart decision.

“Not only is he capable of stepping right in and getting another win for the No. 51 team as we work toward the owner’s championship, he will also be an experienced teammate for Harrison (Burton) and Todd (Gilliland) to lean on that weekend as they try to secure a spot in the playoffs and pursue another Truck Series driver’s championship for our organization.”

For his part, Biffle ran about a dozen laps behind the wheel of the No. 51 Toyota at Texas in March when the series made its first visit to the mile-and-a-half oval.

“The difference between when I drove the truck and when I drove in [March], quite a bit of difference, obviously. But what it reminded me of, it reminded me more of what I’ve been doing over the last 10 years in the [Monster Energy NASCAR] Cup car,” Biffle explained. “The truck felt really similar to that. Obviously, I was by myself, I wasn’t around other trucks, but it kind of gave me that impression of bump-stops and similar to what the Cup car is.”

Coming into a race weekend where he hasn’t run at the NASCAR level in more than two full seasons, Biffle has to manage his expectations.

“The bar has been set pretty high, obviously, by Kyle [Busch, owner/driver] winning five times in the (No.) 51 truck, but I look at the results when Kyle is not in it and some of the other trucks,” Biffle said. “My expectations are certainly high and I certainly want to win, but coming back for the first time and driving these things and figuring out the tire and aero out and all the competitors out. I want a solid top-five performance.

“I won’t be happy if I don’t win, but again, I don’t want to set my expectations too awful high.”

Biffle has five previous starts at Texas dating back to 1998-2000. He has finishes of third, second and first, along with a pair of results outside the top 20. The SpeedyCash.com 400 will run Friday night at 9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

Truckin’ Tidbits:

  • Ross Chastain announced earlier this week that he will be shifting his points focus to the Truck Series beginning with Friday night’s race at Texas. The weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and Xfinity series events at Michigan International Speedway will mark the first two in the top three series that Chastain will not race this season. The win Chastain brought to Niece Motorsports at Kansas Speedway last month will not count toward playoff eligibility. Instead, his point total will start at zero and will likely require a second trip to victory lane this season in order to race for the championship.

  • The Triple Truck Challenge, a program that will reward race winners an extra financial bonus for the next three races, begins this weekend. Only drivers who are declared to run for the championship in the Truck Series are eligible to race.
  • World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway announced last weekend that the trophy awarded to Truck Series race winners at the track will now honor the late Mike Mittler who passed away last month after a battle with cancer. One of only two team owners left from the inaugural Truck Series season, Mittler’s contributions to the sport touched many, including some of today’s Cup stars. The Mittler Memorial Trophy will also undergo a redesign that’s still being finalized as of press time.
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About Beth Lunkenheimer

Beth Lunkenheimer
Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 13-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

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One comment

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    Will biffle bring his bathroom spy cams !