May 9, 2009
The Track “Too Tough To Tame” Lives Up to its Billing for Busch
Date: May 9, 2009
Accident Relegates M&M'S® Driver to 34th-Place Finish in Southern 500
Event: Southern 500 (Round 11 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Darlington (SC) Raceway (1.366-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 14th /34th (Running, completed 303 of 367 laps)
Winner: Mark Martin of Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet)
Racing can be a cruel sport. One week you can have everything go your way and the next it can be taken away at the drop of a hat.
After the conclusion of Saturday night’s Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington (SC) Raceway, no one is more aware of that fact than Kyle Busch, who finished a disappointing 34th.
Coming off his third Sprint Cup win of the season just one week ago at Richmond (VA) International Raceway, the driver of the No. 18 M&M'S®Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) was running comfortably in the top 10 before finding that there was no southern hospitality to be found in the Southern 500.
On lap 284 of the 367-lap race, Busch’s No. 18 machine shot out of the groove and into the SAFER Barrier along the outside retaining wall in turn four. The damage to the right side of the M&M'S® Toyota was substantial, and it forced Busch to the garage area for extensive repairs.
“I drove into the wall off of (turn) four after a restart,” said Busch, who came into the Southern 500 as the race’s defending winner. “We rode around with the fender rubbing and eventually cut the tire. We killed the right side and it pretty much ended our night.”
After winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series events last weekend at Richmond, the talented 24- year-old endured frustration in the two companion races at Darlington, as the track lived up to its “Too Tough To Tame” moniker.
On top of the aforementioned contact with the wall in Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race, Busch led 143 of 153 laps in Friday night’s Nationwide Series race and was poised to win yet again before a flat right-rear tire with less than four laps remaining forced him to relinquish the lead and head to pit road. Replacing the seemingly surefire victory was a heartbreaking 16th-place finish.
Busch seemed to shake off that disappointment with ease once the green flag dropped for the Sprint Cup race on Saturday. He started 14th and quickly moved into the sixth position after just 18 laps around Darlington’s egg-shaped 1.366-mile layout.
Throughout the first few pit stops, crew chief Steve Addington worked to improve a car that had trouble tracking through the corners by ordering an assortment of wedge, track bar, spring rubber and air pressure adjustments. Collectively, the tinkering steadily bettered the handling of the M&M'S®Toyota.
As his car improved, Busch kept his nose clean – that is until he brushed the wall while exiting turn four shortly after a lap 281 restart. Even while wearing a “Darlington Stripe” down the right side of his racecar, Busch was able to continue, albeit with a substantial fender rub on both right side tires.
Three laps later, the right-front tire gave way and Busch was hard into the turn four wall.
The M&M'S® team worked tirelessly to fix the No. 18 Toyota and eventually got Busch back onto the racetrack to at least win the battle of attrition. They succeeded, to a certain degree, by completing 303 of the 367 laps available and finishing 34th in the 43-car field.
Busch’s JGR teammates – Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin – endured much better outings by finishing ninth and 13th, respectively.
With 11 of 36 races complete, Busch dropped two spots to seventh in the championship point race, where he is 221 markers behind series leader Jeff Gordon. Hamlin lost one spot and now sits fifth, 156 markers arrears Gordon. Logano gained two positions to move up to 30th, 599 points back.
Mark Martin beat three-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson by 1.531 seconds to win the Southern 500 and score the 37th victory of his Sprint Cup career, his second of the season and his second at Darlington. Martin’s last victory at Darlington came in September 1993.
Finishing third was Tony Stewart, while Ryan Newman and Gordon rounded out the top five. Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Greg Biffle, Logano and 2003 Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth comprised the remainder of the top 10.
There were 17 caution periods for 73 laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the race.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the May 16th NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race from Lowe’s Motor Speedway near Charlotte, NC. The non-point-paying event begins at 7:30 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by SPEED beginning with its pre-race show at 7 p.m.