Kyle Busch and No. 54 Monster Energy Camry 2nd at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway

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Date: May 5, 2012
Event: Aaron’s 312 (Race 8 of 33)
Series: NASCAR Nationwide Series
Location: Talladega Superspeedway (2.66-mile tri-oval)
Start/Finish: 12th/2nd (Running, completed 122 of 122 laps)
Winner: Joey Logano of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)

The Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) No. 54 Monster Energy team was excited to travel this week to the Talladega Superspeedway in an effort to continue the positive momentum created from the team’s first Nationwide Series win last week. This time, KBM owner Kyle Busch was behind the wheel attempting to earn the team’s second victory of the year. Knowing how the Toyota team performed on a Superspeedway in their Nationwide Series debut at Daytona International Speedway, the young crew was anxious for another attempt at success, this time on the 2.66-mile Alabama icon. Ultimately, with a second-place finish earned, the No. 54 NNS team brought home their third top-ten finish of 2012.

The race weekend started with extreme weather conditions that affected the anticipated schedule and ultimately altered the course for race start. Due to rain, the first on-track attempt for a practice session was postponed one day, leaving the qualifying order to be set according to NASCAR rules. Based on the team’s position in the Owner’s Point Standings, the No. 54 Monster Energy car would start the event from the 12 th position. The subsequent final practice session showed the team what they were hoping for, a fast car and a strong drafting partner in Busch’s older brother Kurt, driving the James Finch owned No. 1 Nationwide Series entry. Kurt Busch won the team’s first victory from behind the wheel of the KBM No. 54 car just one week ago. The two practiced well together this week, leading the speed charts and discerning a race strategy for drafting that could benefit them both.

Race day conditions were extremely hot, as air temperatures reached upwards of 90 degrees. Teams knew the heat would affect not only the driver’s condition inside the car, but it also would affect the racecars themselves. Overheating concerns ran high, however the No. 54 team was prepared to cool down its Camry if needed.

Upon race start, Busch wheeled his Monster Energy machine through the ‘pack,’ gaining six race positions by the second lap. For a brief period, the NNS team owner found himself without a tandem partner while other teams jockeyed for position. The No. 30 of James Buescher became a candidate for Busch to align with, until lap 10 when the two brothers finally found each other in the same place on track. The two began drafting together, as they had in practice the day before, pushing their way into positions within the top five. On lap 18, the No. 54 was recorded as the race leader while the No. 1 pushed him from the second position.

The first yellow-flag period of the day waved on lap 20 which allowed the team to pit the car for right side tires and a can of Sunoco race fuel. Upon completion of the pit stop the driver commented, “Car is good.” A restart on lap 25 posted the Monster Energy Camry as the race leader and Busch battled the ‘pack’ again, until a subsequent caution period waved on lap 29. This time the team provided fuel only upon a pit stop for Busch’s Toyota, playing out the fuel plan they planned to execute. Based on strategies from other race teams, the KBM effort restarted from the seventh position, only to find a long green flag run, filled with single-file racing.

That is until the No. 54 found it’s ‘dancing partner’ again, when the No. 1 of Kurt Busch came back through the field to realign with his brother’s team. The duo ran together fulfilling a variety of top-ten positions until the third yellow-flag period occurred, giving the Monster Energy team another opportunity to change four tires and take on fuel. At this point in the race the No. 1 Kurt Busch machine started overheating, forcing him to pull away from the pack to allow more airflow into the engine. Upon race restart, an unlikely pairing occurred with Kevin Harvick and the No. 33 now aligned with the No. 54 Camry.

A yellow-flag caution at lap 81 provided the pit crew the opportunity to fill their car full of fuel one final time. Busch was the leader when the field returned to green-flag conditions, and would remain on point until the final lap of the race, as cars behind him struggled to compete at the front of the pack.

A green-white-checkered flag attempt was needed when at lap 114, with three laps to go in the race, a subsequent caution flag waved. After the race restarted on lap 116, Busch was positioned firmly in the lead when ‘the big one’ took place on the backstretch. Due to the number of cars wrecked and the need to excavate one driver in need of medical attention, the field was parked for a red-flag period while cleanup efforts continued. Once the track was cleared for restart, and since the field had not taken the white flag, the caution had forced a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish.

The veteran driver knew this final restart would be key to the race win and he conducted dialogue with his spotter and crew chief about what approach to take with the green-flag drop. Uncertain who behind him would “push” the No. 54 car to the finish line, Busch brought the field to the green flag one final time to battle the ensuing last-lap pass. Unfortunately, Busch was unable to prevent the outcome he figured would happen, but hope to avoid. Joey Logano, driver of the No. 18 Camry, was able to successfully complete a late pass attempt for the lead, narrowly beating his Sprint Cup Series teammate to the start-finish line.

Logano, whose margin of victory was .034 seconds over the No. 54 team, later described the last lap and his battle for first, “You’re just a sitting duck when you’re the leader — Kyle was just a sitting duck.” Busch would agree post race, “You just know you’re kind of a sitting duck. I just can’t say enough about Joey (Logano) and the guys at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing). They pushed me to a win the last time here and gave me the chance to be in victory lane. There’s nothing I can do, it wasn’t worth blocking and taking a chance of ending up in the fence or anything. He ran a good race, a smart race there at the end. He knew it was his position.”

Busch continued, “Those other guys couldn’t get along side of us, if they got along side of us, it was going to be a drag race and he would have had to have stayed in line to at least get us to the win. Great job by this Monster Energy team. This is a brand new car from the car we destroyed in Daytona. They worked awfully hard. We didn’t get a chance to qualify to see what kind of speed it had, but had plenty of speed today when it mattered out front and led a lot of laps. We kept it up front there. I was trying to work with my brother (Kurt Busch); unfortunately he had overheating issues today. All in all, this Camry was awesome.”

Logano recorded his second NASCAR Nationwide Series victory of the year and 11th of his career, followed in the second-finishing spot by Kyle Busch. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Cole Whitt and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. completed the top-five finishers. There were seven caution periods for 27 laps of the race along with 37 lead changes across 18 drivers.

Kyle Busch led three times for 36 laps, the highest amount of laps led in the race yielding him the 3M Lap Leader Award. The No. 54 Monster Energy team gained one position to 11th in the Owner’s Point standings, 84 points from the leader.

The next event on the NNS schedule is the May 11th VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 from Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, with television broadcast starting at 6:30 pm EST on ESPN2 and 7 pm on the MRN radio broadcast. Kurt Busch will make his third start of the season behind the wheel of the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.

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