October 25, 2009
Busch Uses Patience and Strategy to Notch Top-Five at Martinsville
Date: Oct. 25, 2009
Event: TUMS Fast Relief 500 (Round 32 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
M&MíS Team Overcomes 41st Starting Spot to Finish Solid Fourth
Location: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (.526-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 41st / 4th (Running, completed 501 of 501 laps)
Winner: Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing in a green-white-checkered finish (Toyota)
Kyle Busch used an impressive combination of patience and a late-race, two-tire strategy to finish a solid fourth in Sundayís TUMS Fast Relief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
The driver of the No. 18 M&Mís Halloween Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) was able to overcome a poor qualifying result (41st) en route to his fourth top-five finish in 10 career Sprint Cup starts at the .526-mile oval.
ďIt was definitely a great battle with everybody,Ē said Busch, who matched his best career Sprint Cup result at Martinsville with his third fourth-place finish at NASCARís smallest track. ďIt was a hard-fought day and the M&Mís Camry was decent. Iím real proud of the effort. The guys had awesome pit stops all day. The guys worked hard. Every stop we made a change on the car trying to make it better. Tires were the name of the game. We just seemed to be on the right strategy when we could come get tires and drive back through some guys. We had a good enough car to do that with. We want to win every week, but Iíve been trying to get there and trying to get a little bit better. It seems like the past couple weeks, weíve done some improving. Iím encouraged, but weíve got a lot more to go.Ē
After starting near the rear of the 43-car field, Busch knew had his work cut out for him. Nonetheless, he quickly moved up to 25th by lap 33 and was up to 13th by lap 163.
The talented 24-year old reported that his car was mostly tight in the center of the trackís corners, which hindered his ability to accelerate hard off the corner. With Busch hovering around the top-15 when the yellow caution flew on lap 177, crew chief Steve Addington elected to stay out on the racetrack while many of the leaders pitted for tires and fuel on lap 178. The effort allowed Busch to leapfrog his way into second for the lap-183 restart, and he soon put the M&Mís Halloween Toyota out front for laps 202-205 before his JGR teammate and eventual race-winner Denny Hamlin reasserted his hold on the lead.
Busch patiently waited out the next portion of the race, which included a long, green-flag run during laps 301-444. During that span, Busch reported that his carís handling worsened as the run wore on. Each lap took more grip out of his tires, and that caused Busch to fall outside the top-15. Fortunately, when the caution flag finally waved on lap 444 and teams could pit for fresh rubber, the No. 18 M&Mís team gained back precious track position thanks to their quick pit work to get their driver slotted in 15th for the restart on lap 449.
Busch quickly picked up four spots to climb to 11th with just 15 laps remaining when the caution came out again on lap 485. Busch and Addington then had a decision to make Ė pit for tires or stay out for track position. Only the top-six cars stayed out, so the No. 18 team pitted for right-side tires only, a move that turned out to be better than they couldíve ever imagined.
With solid pit work by the M&Mís team, Busch restarted in the eighth spot and was the second car with fresh right-side Goodyear tires. From there, Busch muscled past four cars before the checkered flag dropped, finishing off the solid run at a track where he had typically struggled since joining JGR in 2008.
ďWe were always on the right strategy,Ē Busch said. ďWhoever was on the wrong one would just go backward. Tires seemed to mean something here today. Normally you donít see that at Martinsville. Guys are always staying out on 100-lap tires, but today with this car, you needed tires. Glad we came down there with like 15 to go, whatever it was, and put right-sides (tires) on it because that probably gained us about eight spots today.Ē
Hamlin won the TUMS Fast Relief 500 by besting three-time and reigning Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson under caution to score his seventh career Sprint Cup victory, his third of the season and his second at Martinsville. Buschís other JGR teammate, rookie Joey Logano, finished a respectable 12th.
Juan Pablo Montoya finished third, while Busch and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top-five. Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Mark Martin, Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 15 caution periods for 77 laps, with 11 drivers failing to finish the 501-lap race, which was extended one lap past its originally scheduled distance due to a green-white-checkered finish.
With only four races remaining, Hamlin leads the JGR trio in the championship point standings, as he is JGRís lone representative in the 12-driver Chase for the Championship. Hamlin gained two spots to move up to ninth in the standings and is now 352 markers behind Johnson. Busch gained one spot to climb to 13th, while Logano maintained his 20th position.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Nov. 1 AMP Energy 500 at Talladega (Ala) Superspeedway. The race begins at 1 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ABC beginning with its pre-race show at noon.