Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – MARTINSVILLE, VA – Kyle Busch was close in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway—just not close enough.
Trying for his third straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, Busch was second off pit road under caution for a restart on Lap 456 of 500, but he couldn’t get past eventual race winner Brad Keselowski.
On Lap 457, Chase Elliott drove around Busch to the outside to take second, and that’s the way the race finished. Busch’s third-place run actually hurt his average finish for the season, knocking it down to 2.7 through six races.
Busch qualified 14th on Saturday and struggled through the middle portion of the race, but sound adjustments to his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and excellent work in the pits helped him gain spots on every stop. But those factors weren’t enough to overcome a slight deficiency in speed.
“Even when we unloaded here in practice, we just weren’t quite up on the speed charts like we expected to be,” said Busch, who had won the previous two Cup races at ISM Raceway in Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. “First run off the truck was really good, but as the track took rubber, our car just kind of slowed down and we just didn’t have what we needed there.
“Overall, though, today the midpoint day of today’s race was a bit ugly for us, and then we turned it around, and thankful to have (crew chief) Adam Stevens and all my guys that give me everything that I need to kind of go out there and work with, and we were able to turn our day around. Fast pit stops got us a lot of track position today. It was hard to pass, besides rooting a guy off the bottom, and even when you tried to do that, they just cut your nose off and you lose a spot.
“But overall, we fought hard for today’s finish. Not a finish that we wanted to get. Thought we had a chance to win, actually, but could have been a whole lot worse.”
TWO SPEEDING PENALTIES DOOM CLINT BOWYER’S WINNING CHANCES
Clint Bowyer had one of the fastest cars in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, but he didn’t get a chance to prove how strong the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford could be.
The defending race winner came off pit road fourth after stops under caution on Lap 314, but he was flagged for speeding in Sector 10 and had to restart from the rear of the field on Lap 320. Bowyer quickly worked his way forward and was ninth off pit road on Lap 374 during the sixth caution.
Another speeding infraction in the same sector, however, sent him to the rear once more. Bowyer charged forward again and was seventh when Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag after 500 laps.
“I guess we need to get our stuff together on being on the same page with that pit road speed,” Bowyer said after the race. It’s such an important thing and such a big part of this style of racing, where track position is everything. We push it to the limit, but it’s so hard to practice pit road speed.
“You’ve got trucks on pit road when you’re trying to practice that. I’m not making any excuses, it’s just when you’re trying to pinch every little thing out of it, it was hard this week to practice pit road speed because of all the stuff on pit road…
“It is what it is—we just have to quit beating ourselves.”
UNCONTROLLED TIRE COSTS DENNY HAMLIN—BUT NOT SEVERELY
Denny Hamlin was philosophical about the uncontrolled tire penalty that sent him to the back of the field for a Lap 272 restart in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Up to that point, Hamlin had run consistently in the top five, but as good as the cars of race winner Brad Keselowski and runner-up Chase Elliott were, Hamlin didn’t think the infraction cost him a chance to win the race. The most recent Daytona 500 winner worked his way back to fifth at the finish and wasn’t overly disappointed with the result.
“We’ve got to get better,” Hamlin said. “We know that. We’re struggling a little bit right now, for sure, but certainly it’s a team thing. Last week I had a speeding penalty, so it all equals out. If you’re not going to be the best car, you have to execute perfectly.
“The best car (Keselowski) didn’t falter, so it wouldn’t have made a difference either way, but certainly cost us maybe one or two spots today. Nothing to hang our heads about. Overall, a good day.”