Disappointing Finish for No. 54 at Chicagoland Speedway

Date: July 22, 2012
Event: STP 300 (Race 18 of 33)
Series: NASCAR Nationwide Series
Location: Chicagoland (Ill.) Speedway (1.5-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 4th / 27th (Accident, completed 193 of 201 laps)
Winner: Elliott Sadler of Richard Childress Racing (Chevrolet)

After experiencing a few weeks of disappointing finishes, the Kyle Busch Motorsports team was looking forward to a fresh start at Chicagoland (Ill.) Speedway on Sunday, where the NASCAR Nationwide Series was the premier show of the race weekend. Early indications showed a fast No. 54 race car that topped the field at times during practice and yielded a fourth-place starting spot. Car conditions changed quickly, however, and the crew was unable to find their sweet spot. That coupled with a late-race accident, relinquished the young team to a 27th-place finish, eight laps down, their fourth DNF of the season.

It wasn’t long after the black Monster Energy machine took the green flag when signs showed despair, as team owner-driver Kyle Busch communicated, “we are wrecking loose on exit,” indicating his difficulty to maneuver track turns. Although Busch had gained one spot to third,under green-flag conditions the team pitted the ill-handling car to provide spring-rubber and tire changes to fix the car’s handling. As Busch left his pit box, however, NASCAR officials clocked him speeding, therefore a penalty was accessed.

Before Busch returned to pit road to fulfill his drive-through penalty, a caution period waved on the 1.5-mile oval. The No. 54 team was in ninth place and Busch could tell the recently made pit stop changes were not the feel he wanted, thereby asking the team to reverse them. The team pitted under yellow, fulfilling their penalty obligation by coming to pit road, and making further changes to help the handling of Busch’s car.

As the field went back to green on lap 59 of the 200-lap event, the Monster Energy team was in 13th position. For some reason, the car’s handling just wasn’t coming around the way Busch preferred. He could race aggressively for four or five laps and then felt like the car wouldn’t advance. Busch was quiet on the radio and the team elected to make another green-flag pit stop around the race’s halfway mark. These car changes put the No. 54 team two laps down to the field, but within seven laps after the balance of the field had pitted, Busch was once again running in the top-15 and on the lead lap.

In the second half of the race, the Nationwide Series field experienced two more caution periods, one of which provided time again for the No. 54 KBM team to visit pit road. Busch’s remarks explained slight improvement in the car, “we are a two loose now instead of a 10.” Within 20 laps, Busch maneuvered his car from 12th to eighth and then to third, when on lap 167 the fourth caution period occurred.

The team visited pit road, but due to a slow stop, Busch lost one position in the running order when he returned to the field. With 28 laps remaining in the event, Busch restarted from fourth place and battled amongst frontrunners within the top-five, until his car’s handling again slipped away.

With fewer than ten laps remaining in the Sunday event, Busch battled his car and the field, in a final effort to salvage a top-ten finish for the day. Unfortunately, the team would endure one more challenge, when on lap 193 the No. 12 car of Sam Hornish, Jr. hit the rear bumper of the KBM machine, sending it into the No. 33 of Brendan Gaughan, both cars impacting the outside wall of the backstretch and heavily damaging their vehicles.

Busch drove the wrecked No. 54 machine to pit road where the team intended to replace the tires and send Busch back on track, however NASCAR officials wouldn’t allow it to return to the race, due to the heavy amount of vehicle damage. For the second time in three weeks, a disappointed Busch exited the garage area early while the final event laps unfolded on track.

Post race, KBM general manager Rick Ren commented, “It was a really frustrating day. We thought we were pretty good in practice yesterdayand trying to anticipate a hot, sunny race track today. We made some adjustments aimed at that direction and kind of went the wrong way. We just never could recover over what we had done. We’re still scratching our head a little bit as to what happened because some of the things Kyle (Busch) was complaining about with the chassis today, it’s very odd. Even Kyle said, ‘I’ve never quite felt this before. We’ll diagnose what we did today and try to correct that and go on and go forward. Mike Beam (crew chief) and I we just had a meeting here about Indianapolis next week and changing our focus a little bit around from where we’re at. We have to go to Indianapolis and just put this behind us and go on. We have, if not the best driver that there is — I don’t know who else is up there and when we run this badly, it’s not him.”

The Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 NNS team dropped one position to 10th in the Series Owner’s Points Standings, 118 points out of first place, through 18 races completed.

Elliott Sadler won his eighth career Nationwide Series event and third series win of 2012 in the Richard Childress owned Chevrolet machine, over second-place finisher Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Justin Allgaier, Kenny Wallace and Michael Annett completed the top-five finishers.

There were five caution periods for 25 laps of the race along with thirteen lead changes across eight drivers.

The next event on the NNS schedule is the Indy 250, Aug. 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with the race television broadcast starting at 4 p.m. EST on ESPN.

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