April 10, 2010
Late Caution Costs Busch at Phoenix
Date: April 10, 2010
M&M’s Driver Leads Race-High 113 Laps, but Finishes Disappointing Eighth
Event: Subway Fresh Fit 600k (Round 7 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Phoenix International Raceway
Start/Finish: 17th/8th (Running, completed 378 of 378 laps)
Winner: Ryan Newman of Stewart-Haas Racing (Chevrolet) in a green-white-checkered finish
Kyle Busch was just two laps away from completing a sweep of both NASCAR events at Phoenix International Raceway, but a late-race caution in Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race cost the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) a victory in the Subway Fresh Fit 600k.
Busch, who finished a disappointing eighth, was hoping to make it two consecutive victories after driving his No. 18 Combos Toyota Camry for JGR to victory lane in Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Phoenix.
“We had a great M&M’s Camry,” said Busch, who led twice for a race-high 113 laps. “Dave Rogers (crew chief) and the guys gave me an awesome car. We had great pits stops all night. If it would’ve finished under green, we would’ve won, but that late caution killed us.”
Busch took the lead on lap 262 and held the point for the next 112 circuits around the 1-mile oval. Closing in on the 325th and seemingly final lap, Busch had a nearly two-second advantage over second-place Jimmie Johnson and appeared to be set for a weekend sweep.
Unfortunately for Busch and the M&M’s team, Scott Riggs crashed in turn three on lap 373 to bring out the race’s final caution period, setting up a green-white-checkered finish that sent the race into overtime.
The untimely caution put Busch, crew chief Dave Rogers and the M&M’s team in one of the toughest positions in all of NASCAR racing. As the leader, a decision must be made to pit or stay out, and if the call is to pit, whether to take two tires versus four. Those calls are made by crew chiefs knowing that the cars behind them will have the option to see what decision is made by the lead car and react accordingly.
Rogers and Busch decided to hit pit road and the rest of the field followed accordingly, but while the No. 18 car and the No. 48 of Johnson took four tires, several others opted for just two tires, namely Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya. Due to their four-tire pit strategy, Johnson and Busch restarted seventh and eighth, respectively, for the two-lap dash to the finish, which extended the race to 378 laps.
Johnson was able to work his way up to third, but Busch became caught in traffic and had to settle for a respectable, yet highly disappointing, top-10 finish.
“It was a tough call,” Rogers said. “Everyone watched the Nationwide race yesterday and we decided before the race that if we’re going to hit pit road late like that, then you should take four (tires). With two tires, the cars are just out of control and the drivers are doing all they can to hang onto them. You saw that out there, but unfortunately, enough took two that somebody benefited from it. We were looking at the run before and 17 laps into the run, we were a full second slower than what we were when we went out on sticker tires, so there was a lot of fall off. Four tires were definitely the call to go fast, but enough people took two that it just messed everything up. We started on the outside of the ‘48’ (Johnson), which we thought was going to be the preferred line, but the outside line didn’t go. The ‘48’ advanced forward and we got caught behind traffic. Seems like it’s our luck this year. We’re a tough team. We’ll keep digging.
“These guys worked hard. This M&M’s Camry was fast. We fell one lap short of leading the most laps. We learned a lot. We’re pleased with how we ran at Martinsville and Phoenix – both of these races are in the Chase and we know we can run up front in them. But, we’re discouraged to let two good finishes slip away at the very end.”
Busch’s JGR teammates – Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin – finished 10th and 30th, respectively.
Newman won the Subway Fresh Fit 600k to score his 14th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Phoenix.
Finishing .130 of a second behind Newman was Gordon, while Johnson, Martin and Montoya rounded out the top-five. Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Busch, Clint Bowyer and Logano comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were nine caution periods for 59 laps, with six drivers failing to finish.
With seven of 36 races in the books, Logano leads the JGR trio in the championship point standings. He is in 11th place with 862 points, 211 markers back of leader Johnson. Busch is 12th with 855 points, 218 markers arrears Johnson. Hamlin is 18th with 783 points, 290 markers down to Johnson.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the April 18 Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 2 p.m.