M&M’s Driver Jumps Back Into Chase Wild-Card Spot
Date: Aug. 25, 2012
Event: Irwin Tools Night Race (Round 24 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (.533-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 10th/6th (Running, completed 500 of 500 laps
Point Standing: 13th (707 points, 142 out of first; 39 behind 10th)
Winner: Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
Kyle Busch is a five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, so when he shows up at the .533-mile bullring, he expects to contend for the win.
But from the drop of the green flag Saturday night, Aug. 25 at Bristol, it was clear Busch had some work to do to earn his sixth career Bristol win due to an ill-handling No. 18 M&M’s Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR).
But Busch rallied for a workmanlike sixth-place finish in the Irwin Tools Night Race despite those handling problems and a pit road speeding penalty that dropped him as far back as 30th.
“Our race was decent,” said Busch, who earned his 11th top-10 finish of the season and his 11th top-10 in 16 career starts at Bristol. “I think I screwed us up in practice -- just not getting the right setup underneath the car. I took our guys in a little bit of the wrong direction there, so I hate it for them. We had an M&M’s Camry capable of getting a better finish tonight. We fought hard, we did all we could, and Dave (Rogers, crew chief) made some really good calls throughout the race to get us better track position as well as a better-handling car to at least try to pass guys. Other than that, it was just a fight for the top.
“We were just so slow in the middle of the corner. The last couple runs, I could protect myself for the first 20 or 30 laps, but after that I would back into people. The 15 (Clint Bowyer) was all over me – he cut me a lot of slack the last 30 laps. We used to have something that we haven’t been able to catch on to the last couple times here. It’s a little frustrating in that regard. Whether it’s me leading our guys in practice or whether it’s us making the right adjustments on race morning, we just haven’t hit it here at Bristol in the last three races.”
After starting 10th, Busch worked his way up to seventh by lap 21 despite battling a tight-handling racecar. But the first obstacle of the day would present itself on lap 84 when Busch brought his M&M’s Camry to pit road for the first time, where he was penalized by NASCAR for entering pit road too fast. The pit road speeding penalty sent him to the tail end of the longest line, where he restarted 30th on lap 90.
Despite the early issues, the M&M’s team didn’t panic. Busch dug deep and climbed to 21st by lap 121 and 14th by lap 136. With various pit strategies throughout the 500-lap race, Busch bounced around the top-10 for the remainder of the night. Las Vegas native Busch continued to fight the same basic issues the rest of the distance, with crew chief Dave Rogers throwing air pressure, trackbar, and wedge adjustments at the car to fix a tight-handling condition in the center and exit of the corner, which kept Busch from being able to turn well in the center of the corner.
Even though the car wasn’t to Busch’s liking, he found himself 10th after making his final pit stop of the night on lap 414. From there, with a few cautions sprinkled in, Busch fought his way to a sixth-place finishing position. While it wasn’t the night Busch and the M&M’s team were accustomed to at Bristol, the top-10 finish vaulted the team into the second wild-card spot with just two races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup field is locked in.
Busch’s JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota, won the Irwin Tools Night Race. It was Hamlin’s 20th career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his first victory at Bristol. Busch’s other JGR teammate, Joey Logano, driver of the No. 20 Toyota, finished eighth.
Jimmie Johnson finished 1.103 seconds behind Hamlin in the runner-up spot, while Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers, and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top-five. Busch, Clint Bowyer, Logano, Kasey Kahne and Paul Menard comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 13 caution periods for 87 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 500-lap race.
With round 24 of 36 complete, Hamlin leads the JGR trio in the championship point standings. He gained two spots with his victory and sits eighth in the standings with 774 points, 75 behind series leader Biffle and 44 points ahead of 11th-place Kahne. Busch gained one spot to 13th place in the standings with 707 points, 142 out of first and 39 behind 10th-place Tony Stewart. Logano remained 18th with 638 points, 211 away from the top spot and 108 behind 10th.
Only the top-10 in points are locked into the 12-driver, 10-race Chase. Positions 11 and 12 in the Chase are wild cards, awarded to the two drivers between 11th and 20th in points with the most wins. In the event of multiple drivers having the same number of wins, a driver’s point standing serves as the tiebreaker.
Kahne holds the 11th-place wild-card spot thanks to his two victories, the most of any driver outside the top-10. Busch vaulted into the 12th-place wild-card spot after Bristol due to his victory April 28 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, combined with his 13th position in the point standings, which is higher than his fellow single-race winners in the top-20 in points – Gordon, Ryan Newman, Ambrose and Logano.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the AdvoCare 500 on Sunday, Sept. 2 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 6:30 p.m.