By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
The dominant driver of the day did not score victory Sunday at Pocono Raceway.
Kyle Busch led a race-high 63 laps in the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400, but was denied his second win of the year by his teammate Denny Hamlin, who cruised to win. This was until the two were disqualified from the finishing order after failing postrace technical inspection.
Before the DQ for both Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, it came down the race’s final restart, which saw Hamlin maintain the lead from Busch and drive away.
“We qualified second and finished second,” Busch said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get it. I wanted to get up there and challenge for the win, get the win and have all the Mars associates that were here with us in victory lane. I was driving my guts off. That’s all I had.”
The race began to unravel for the No. 18 during a green-flag cycle of pit stops when second-place Ross Chastain overtook Busch with a quicker pit time. Busch then dropped to third after a pass from Hamlin.
Contact between Hamlin and Chastain took the latter out of contention, giving Busch one more restart to grab the lead back. Unfortunately for the two-time champion, he fell short.
“I think 1-2-3 finished 1-2-3, that was a big part of it,” he said of the restart order. “It definitely got away from us. We had really good pace in the middle part of the race. We were trending loose that run. We needed some more speed, so we made an adjustment to help that to tighten up the car and went way too far. We were super tight at the end of the race and lost about four tenths of a second per lap. That really hurt us.
“[We] just didn’t have anything for those guys. And really, for as equal as we all were, it was going to be a matter of who came off pit road first and when Chastain beat us, I think that was the race end without getting a caution.”
Despite the eventual penalty, Busch snapped a troublesome streak of poor pace, proving the 1.5-mile package suits the JGR Toyotas well in 2022.
“That’s where our bread and butter has been this year,” he said. “We go to the flat, parking-lot-type road course next [week] — slow speed, slow corner speeds, that’s where we really struggle. Unless we’ve made improvements on all of that from Road America, I don’t expect much next week [Indianapolis GP Course], so that will be a points loser. But we’ll have to fight hard and get the most we can.
“I don’t know. It’s just kind of working in our favor for whatever package we’ve got. I’m not in the numbers too much. That’s all those guys and the hard work they do and I guess the sim and what it tells them to do. Vegas we were fast, the mile-and-a-halves with Kansas we were fast, Charlotte we were fast. I’d argue that those places were good, too.”