June 7, 2009
Busch Finishes a Disappointing 22nd in Pocono 500
Date: June 7, 2009
Handling and Fuel Mileage Issues Hamper M&M’S Team
Event: Pocono 500 (Round 14 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Pocono (Pa.) Raceway (2.5-mile triangle)
Start/Finish: 6th / 22nd (Running, completed 200 of 200 laps)
Winner: Tony Stewart of Stewart-Haas Racing (Chevrolet)
Scenic Pocono (Pa.) Raceway continues to be anything but for Kyle Busch.
After finishing 43rd and 36th, respectively, in the two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races held at the 2.5-mile triangle in 2008, the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) continued to see red after handling issues and sub-par fuel economy conspired to leave him 22nd when the checkered flag dropped in Sunday’s Pocono 500.
“We just never really got the M&M’s Toyota right today,” said Busch, who at least came into Sunday’s race with a bit of a bounce after winning Saturday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway. “It would start off the run tight and then turn loose by the end of the run. We’ve got a lot of work to do here for next time, that’s for sure. A lot of those guys made it on fuel and we couldn’t. But the fact of the matter is that we were off. It’s disappointing.”
Starting from the sixth spot, as the 43-car field was set by points when Friday’s qualifying session was rained-out, Busch hung around in sight of the top-10 for much of the first half of the 200-lap race, but a tight handling condition at the start of a fuel run that turned to a loose condition close to the end of the run thwarted his forward progress.
Crew chief Steve Addington worked on the M&M’s Toyota over the first five pit stops of the day, devising an assortment of air pressure, track bar and air pressure adjustments to correct the car’s wayward handling. But no matter what Addington threw at the No. 18 Toyota, the car never came around to Busch’s liking.
“Our lap times were just up and down all day long,” Addington said. “I didn’t think the car was that bad. On the back side of a few of the runs we were great – ran great lap times compared to everybody, but we lost so much of it at the beginning of a run to get there. We’ve got some work to do on our racecars to come back here.”
Even though Busch and Addington battled an ill-handling racecar, they still sat in the 14th position when the green flag flew for the final time on lap 165. But as the laps ticked away and it became apparent that fuel strategy was going to play a key role in the outcome of the race, Addington made the call for Busch to come to pit road with 15 laps remaining. He knew that the M&M’s Toyota couldn’t make it to the end of the race on fuel, and conventional thinking had it that many of the frontrunners also could not make it. Unfortunately, several cars were able to stretch their fuel to the end of the 500-mile race, including race-winner Tony Stewart, which resulted in a worse than expected finish for the M&M’s team.
“We were three laps short (on fuel) and the way we are sitting here in the points, 60 or 80 from being out of the top-12, I decided to play it safe,” Addington said. “We didn’t figure that a lot of those guys could make it all the way to the end, so we tried to do a short pit deal – put tires on it and try to make up some time. We made up some time. Those guys made it and I don’t know how. Our teammate was getting better fuel mileage than us and he ran out in turn three. We wouldn’t have made it even if we tried to back it down. We did the right thing. We finished on the lead lap.”
Busch’s JGR teammates – rookie Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin – finished 23rd and 38th, respectively.
With 14 of 36 races in the books, Busch leads the JGR trio in the championship point standings, despite dropping three spots to ninth. He currently has 1,731 points and is 312 markers behind series leader Stewart. Hamlin is 12th in the standings after dropping five positions. He has 1,679 points and is 364 points arrears Stewart. Logano lost two spots to fall to 25th. He has 1,357 points and is 686 points back of the lead.
By winning the Pocono 500, Stewart became the first driver/owner to win a Sprint Cup race since Ricky Rudd on Sept. 27, 1998 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway – a span of 375 races. The victory was Stewart’s 34th career Sprint Cup victory, his first points-paying win of the season and his second at Pocono.
Carl Edwards finished 2.004 seconds behind Stewart in the runner-up slot, while David Reutimann, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five. Marcos Ambrose, Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jeff Burton and Sam Hornish Jr., comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 20 laps, with just five drivers failing to finish the 200-lap race.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the June 14 LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. The race begins at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at 12:30 p.m.