Inches Separate Kyle Busch Motorsports from Victory at Daytona

Date: February 25, 2012
Event: DRIVE4COPD 300 (Race 1 of 33)
Series: NASCAR Nationwide Series
Location: Daytona International Speedway (2.5-mile superspeedway)
Start/Finish: 24th/18th (Accident, completed 119 of 120 laps)
Winner: James Buescher of Turner Motorsports (Chevrolet)

Kyle Busch was looking to lead his new Nationwide Series team down a winning path in Saturday’s DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and was inches away from accomplishing his goal. The owner-driver started from the 24th position and overcame several obstacles early in the race to put his team in a position for the win on the final lap. Just as the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry appeared to have narrowly cleared an accident off Turn 4, Busch was clipped from behind and sent spinning down the fronstretch. With severe damage to his Toyota, he was unable to make his way to the start-finish line and completed with an 18th place finish.

Upon race completion Kyle described, “I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what happened, but a great race car. Phenomenal job by the guys. We kind of battled back from being behind much of the day. Ran up front for much of the day too, so we were kind of back and forth a little bit. Just a great race pushing with Kurt (Busch) and working with him an awful lot and being able to get up there. I thought we had the race won and then those guys were coming on the top and I’m like, ‘Alright, let’s see where we settle in here.’ I thought when they all crashed up high that I was clear. I shot low — as low as I could and then somebody tagged me in the back and just hooked me dead right. It was a really, really hard hit and then there were a few more after that. It just seemed like they kept coming. I swore when they all went up high — I was the leader for a second and I was like, ‘I won this thing, it’s over — I can see the checkered flag.’ Then within a split second of that I was in the fence and wrecked. I can’t say enough about Monster Energy and everybody there — all the guys that built this thing. It was a fast Camry. It was fun.”

Team spirits were high upon completion of Thursday’s practice session when Kyle visited the top of the speed chart. Through various tandem draft segments with Kasey Kahne and then with his brother Kurt, Kyle felt the race car was prepared to see it’s first on-track race activity and to be competitive. While the windy conditions influenced a 24th position qualifying run on Friday, the driver and team were still motivated for a positive race outcome.

Upon race start and with typical pack racing at Daytona, the Monster Energy Camry found itself separated from the pack by lap seven. “Those guys are crazy up there,” explained the team owner-driver as he watched lead cars bumping early. Although he lost some speed, Kyle and spotter agreed the position was safe for now, considering the aggressive behaviors up front. Kyle hooked up with the No. 27 car of David Ragan and started to work his way forward. The No. 54 Monster Energy Camry was running the fastest lap times of the field at this point, but had to work towards joining the front pack of cars.

With an early race caution on lap 29, Kyle reported to the crew members his right window was loose and it appeared a broken flap would require maintenance. Initial discussion was to tape the piece but with a subsequent pit stop the team replaced the whole window. This extra time on pit road yielded a four-tire pit stop with fuel and a window tear-away replacement.

The field went back to green on lap 35 with the No. 54 scored in the 31st position. By lap 42 the Monster Energy team was in the sixth position and by lap 45 in the fourth position, Kyle came over the radio to his spotter, “are we going to do this or what?” He was referring to making a tandem connection rather than continuing in the three-wide pack racing he was experiencing. In a superspeedway race such as Daytona, it’s important for the race team spotters to have communication with other driver’s spotters, in order to be the “eyes” on potential draft partners. Kyle ultimately hooked up with the No. 12 of Sam Hornish, Jr. and started to work together until another race caution presented at lap 49. Kyle talked on the radio during this break, reminding his spotter to assist with more verbal description of the cars around him in order to avoid a race incident.

The No. 54 team pitted during this time and conducted a fast pit stop for two right-side tires and fuel.  However, leaving the pit box the team was presented with pit road traffic that resulted in damage to the car upon hitting the No. 88 and others speeding towards the pit-road exit. This damage caused the Kyle Busch Motorsports team to come back down pit road to fix the front right bumper and a small hood bubble.  It turned out that a fender replacement was necessary since the previous damage had knocked in the nose so far it couldn’t be pulled out and the aerodynamics had been ruined. Seven laps later with the next race caution, the team was back on pit road to replace the front right fender and to make sure the tape job was secure.

The halfway point of the race showed the Monster Energy Camry team in the 35th position due to time spent on pit road. Once back on track and with car damage fixed, the team could see Kyle was still fast. The next challenge was to find a “dance partner” and when the No. 12 of Sam Hornish, Jr. presented itself again around the No. 54, they “engaged” and started to move forward. On lap 73, Kyle brought the Monster Energy car across the start-finish line in the first position, one of two total race lead laps he would make through the event.

Another race caution appeared on lap 74 with subsequent pit stops by the teams. At this point the No. 54 driver was anxious to align with his brother Kurt in the No. 1 Phoenix Racing Nationwide Series entry. The team crew chiefs agreed to take four tires during the pit sequence in order to put them together for race restart. Kyle explained to his spotter, “Tell Kurt I’ll leave him a hole and he can come up in front of me.” His intention was for Kurt to take the lead position in their two-car tandem upon race start at lap 80.

Over the next nine laps, the duo battled within the top ten among drivers such as previous Daytona winner Tony Stewart, Elliott Sadler, Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano. Kyle advised the crew his water temperature gauge was broken at this point, so he had to watch fuel “spit” and switch positions with his brother in order to cool down the engine. On lap 89, the No. 54 Monster Energy Camry and the No. 1 Kurt Busch car were in positions one and two across the line.

A late race incident forced another yellow flag on lap 93. During a final pit stop for the day, the No. 54 team took fuel only and a clean window tear-off. Unfortunately, the team pitting in front of the Monster Energy car boxed us in leaving little room for exit. Kyle had to back the car up in order to maneuver leaving the pit area which put the team back in race position 19 on restart lap 98.

The last moments of the 120 lap event saw two big wrecks and a red-flag delay for track cleanup. This gave Kyle and brother Kurt one last chance to strategize which part of the track they would protect from the other tandem leaders. The final race restart on lap 118 scored Kyle and the No. 54 in the fourth position before being tagged from behind ending hopes of a history-making race finish for his KBM team’s NNS debut.

Upon exiting the infield care center, and physically okay, Kyle talked with the media, “We battled back. We had some adversity that we really didn’t want to see, but we had a good race car. The guys did a good job. I wish we would have finished this thing. We didn’t need a tore up race car like that. That one’s pretty much done.”

James Buescher of Turner Motorsports won his first Nationwide Series event followed by Brad Keselowski. Elliott Sadler, Cole Whitt and Austin Dillon completed the top-five finishers. There were eight caution periods for 35 laps of the race along with 38 lead changes, two of which were led by Kyle.

The next event on the NNS schedule is the March 3rd, Basha’s Supermarkets 300 with the race starting at 4:30 p.m. and pre-race coverage beginning at 4:00 p.m. EST on ESPN2. Kyle will make his second start of the season behind the wheel of the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.

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