By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
After struggling early, Kyle Busch fought back to score his first top-five finish of the season at his hometrack.
The two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion didn’t break into the top-10 until the second Stage. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was the lowest of the JGR contingent throughout the first half of the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube.
All of that changed in the final Stage however. During the final green flag run of the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the adjustments the Ben Beshore (crew chief)-led team made to his No. 18 Ethel M Chocolates Toyota Camry proved to be beneficial. Two quick cautions before the final green flag run helped Busch move up the running order.
The 83-lap run saw hectic racing on the restart. A round of green flag pit stops also jumbled the running order. Busch slowly and methodically climbed up and into the top-five. In the close laps, the Las Vegas NV native passed his teammates, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., as well as Ryan Blaney. However, he was far away from both race winner Kyle Larson and second-place Brad Keselowski when the checkered flag waved.
“We fought hard obviously,” Busch explained. “We were a little behind the eight ball at the start of the green flag and just were super, super tight all day long. Ben and the guys made awesome adjustments to.
“I was trying to give the best feedback I can to give them good information that they can base that off of and make the good adjustments. We improved each time. I don’t know where we missed it so far from the simulator, but that’s two weeks in a row where we’re not apples to apples.”
Busch first entered the top-10 in the caution-free Stage 2. He climbed has high as ninth in the running order. After starting 14th and spending Stage 1 outside the top-10, Busch earned two additional points in the second Stage.
The hometown race had a little extra meaning for Busch. Ethel M Chocolates, a premium chocolate brand in the area was on his Toyota for the first time. Busch shared memories of his grandmother taking him to Ethel M Chocolates when he was a kid.
“Just can’t say enough about Ethel M Chocolates, thank you guys,” admitted Busch. “It’s a pleasure to have them onboard here for the first time ever in anything. I remember being there as a kid, a little bit anyways, I was five so it’s a little shady. Certainly, my grandmother is smiling from above, so it was really special to have that on our Camry. Ready to keep working on it and keep improving. We were just a little off on pace, overall pace, overall lap time from the fast guys.”
The third-place finish was the first top-five for Busch this season. It is also the 215th of his NASCAR Cup Series career.
The top-five finish moved Busch up from 18th in the points standings to 14th. He is 89-points behind leader Hamlin. Busch is just eight points above the cutoff, held by Chris Buescher.
Feature Photo Credit: Rachel Schuoler / Kickin’ the Tires