Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LAS VEGAS – It was Lap 129 of Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and Kyle Busch had his car dialed in.
In the wake of Friday’s victory in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series and Saturday’s win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race, a three-event weekend sweep at his home track was well within his grasp.
Nine laps earlier, Busch had wrested the lead from eventual race winner Joey Logano, before heading pit road on Lap 129. Busch came in hot, diving off the Turn 4 banking toward the curved entrance to pit road.
Sensing that his speed might be excessive, Busch hammered the brakes in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and lit up his tires, which screamed as he slid past the commitment line. But the braking wasn’t enough, and Busch was flagged for speeding in Sector 1.
The infraction earned a pass-through penalty, but Busch managed to stay on the lead lap through the end of the race’s second stage. Restarting 16th after the final caution, Busch worked his way forward, running the fastest lap times on the track.
But Busch ran out of time after passing Kevin Harvick for third place five laps from the finish. Closing on Logano and runner-up Brad Keselowski with fewer than three laps left, Busch was held up by the lapped car of Corey Lajoie, and his winning chances – however remote at that point – were gone.
“I certainly screwed up our day,” Busch lamented. “Coming to pit road there, we tried a different brake package for us this weekend, and trying to make up time, and in order to get a bigger jump on the guys behind me coming to pit road there, just ruined it for us.
“And we had to come from the back, and I think we passed the most cars today, so I think we were the most impressive today, but doesn’t matter because we don’t have a trophy. Whatever. Next week.”
KEVIN HARVICK’S TEAM STILL TRYING TO DECIPHER NEW PACKAGE
For the second straight week, Kevin Harvick looked dominant in the early stages of a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
Harvick was the class of the field in the first stage of the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading Laps 1-43 from the pole and closing out the stage after green-flag pit stops by leading Laps 62-80.
In the second half of the race, however, Harvick lost the handle on his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and fell to fourth at the finish. The arc of the Las Vegas event mirrored that of the Atlanta Cup race a week earlier, when Harvick won the second stage before fading to fourth.
“The second half of the race, it’s happened to us two weeks in a row,” Harvick said. “The last two weeks, we’ve just been way off to start practice, based on where everybody thought we should start. And we just weren’t even in the ballpark, making huge changes to get in the ballpark.
“They’ve done a great job of getting the car close. When we get some baseline stuff here, we can start working on the details and not scrambling so much. But they’re doing a great job, and we knew that was going to be a possibility, and we didn’t know where we’d be with our cars.
“We qualified decent and had a good first half of the race two weeks in a row, but just got tighter as the race went on.”
KURT BUSCH RIDES CONTRARIAN STRATEGY TO TOP-FIVE FINISH
Kurt Busch was struggling in dirty air early in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The solution? Trade the dirty air for clean air at the front of the pack.
Busch and crew chief Matt McCall opted to stay on track as long as possible during the second stage of the race, pitting for tires and fuel with 15 laps left in the segment. That enable Busch to keep his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet on the track while others came to pit road for the stage break.
Busch led the field to green on Lap 168 and held the top spot on older tires despite huge pressure from Kevin Harvick. It took 20 laps for Harvick to grab the lead from Busch, who held on for a fifth-place finish in his third race with his new team.
“We got really tight in traffic, and our pit strategist was saying that, if we stayed long in the second stage, then we could stay out,” Busch said. “It played out to where we got clean air, and it completely changed the complexion of the car…
“It gave us a lot to learn from today, and I’m really proud of everybody to get a top five. Now we’ve got two top fives to year, but we know we’ve got some more work to do.”