April 18, 2009
Pit Road Speeding Ticket Thwarts Busch’s Strong Run at Phoenix
Date: April 18, 2009
Potential Top-Five Run Goes South for M&M'S® Team in Race’s Final 10 Laps
Event: Subway Fresh Fit 500k (Round 8 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, AZ (1-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 2nd/17th (Running, completed 312 of 312 laps)
Winner: Mark Martin of Hendrick Motorsports (Chevrolet)
If Saturday night’s Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway had been 10 laps shorter than its actual 312-lap distance, Kyle Busch might’ve been talking about his fourth top-five finish of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Instead, a pit road speeding penalty during his final pit stop thwarted an otherwise solid run, relegating Busch to a disappointing 17th-place result.
“We came here with a new setup and we weren’t the best car, but we made a huge improvement from last year,” Busch said. “We didn’t want to see that caution come out at the end. The guys had a great stop and (NASCAR) said we were too fast exiting in the last pit stall and it killed our day.”
The second-year Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) driver started the 500-kilometer race on the outside of row one and immediately began fighting a tight handling condition that quickly dropped him to ninth by the time the first caution flag waved on lap 55. But crew chief Steve Addington went to work on the No. 18 machine during that pit stop and in the car’s subsequent trips to pit road, ordering an assortment of wedge, air pressure and track bar adjustments that slowly brought the handling of the M&M'S® Toyota around to Busch’s liking.
By the halfway point of the race, the talented 23-year-old was able to work his way up to fifth place, a far cry from his struggles on flat, one-mile ovals in 2008. Solidly in fourth place with the laps winding down, Busch and the M&M'S® team were content with a solid top-five run. But a caution on lap 302 changed everything for the No. 18 team.
One lap later, Busch and the rest of the race leaders drove to pit road for tires. On that stop, the quick work of the M&M'S® pit crew propelled Busch to second place as the field exited the pits.
But just as soon as the No. 18 team looked as if it had put Busch in a position to win, the optimism was quickly bottled back up when Busch was tagged for exiting the pits too fast. As a result, Busch was sent to the tail-end of the longest line. His M&M'S® Toyota was the last car on the lead lap for the final six-lap shootout, effectively ending his chance at a win or even a top-five finish.
“At the last box they said we were .005 too fast leaving pit road. What are you going to do?” asked Addington. “You have to go to the back and get what you can out of it. We didn’t have the best racecar, but we had a lot better racecar than we’ve had here in the past couple of races. This is the first time we ran this setup, so we’ll look forward to coming back here in November.”
Busch’s JGR teammates – Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano – finished sixth and 21st, respectively.
With eight of 36 races complete, Busch maintained his seventh-place standing in the championship point race, where he is 216 markers behind series leader Jeff Gordon. Hamlin gained one spot and now sits fifth, 154 markers arrears Gordon. Logano gained two spots to climb to 33rd, 84 markers ahead of 36th-place David Gilliland.
Venerable Mark Martin beat Tony Stewart by .734 of a second to win the Subway Fresh Fit 500k. The 50-year old driver scored the 36th victory of his Sprint Cup career and his second at Phoenix. Finishing third was Kurt Busch, while Jimmie Johnson and Greg Biffle rounded out the top five. Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., David Reutimann, Sam Hornish Jr., and Carl Edwards comprised the remainder of the top 10.
There were six caution periods for 29 laps, with four drivers failing to finish the race.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the April 26th Aaron’s 499 at Talladega (AL) Superspeedway. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by FOX beginning with its pre-race show at 1 p.m.