Brains Over Brawn
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch has established a steady pattern of overpowering the opposition through his nine-year NASCAR Nationwide Series career.
The No. 18 team's well-known brawn yielded to its brains at Auto Club Speedway where Busch climbed within three victories of Mark Martin's all-time series record when Crew Chief Jason Ratcliff's call for a two-right-side-tire pit stop with 13 laps of 150 laps remaining gave Busch a race lead he converted into his second straight and third Nationwide Series victory of the season in his fifth start.
Busch kept his car among the race top five throughout the fifth series event of the season, but his No. 18 was unable to seriously challenge the No. 33 Kevin Harvick, Inc., car driven by its owner and Carl Edwards' No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing machine.
Edwards brought his car to the pits for four tires on Lap 132 after surrendering the race lead to Harvick on Lap 115. Harvick dove to pits for four tires just two laps later with 16 laps remaining. Busch rolled his machine in for its pivotal final stop and with 13 laps to go, seized the race lead by saving essential seconds by taking on just two tires and took the checkered flag 0.713 of a second ahead of Edwards.
Busch earned his third straight and fifth Nationwide Series victory at Auto Club Speedway in his last six starts on the two-mile track after leading the race only twice for a total of 18 laps.
"When we came down for that final pit stop, we were going to take four (tires) and we thought, 'We're not going to win this thing taking four tires, so we ought to gamble here and get two.'
"I can't thank Jason enough. He won the race today. We stole this one, it wasn't ours. We were a fourth-place car on the shorter runs and a third-place car on the long runs.
"I don't know why we had such a problem today, getting going. This car really came to life there late in the runs. It's cool to come out here, I love California and I love the West Coast. This is a cool win for us," Busch said after capturing his 46th career Nationwide Series victory along with his eighth series top-five and 10th top-10 finish through 13 career Auto Club Speedway starts.
Edwards started from the pole position for the second time this season and generated his second top-five series finish of the season while extending his top-10 finish streak to four after leading the event seven times for 48 laps.
"We were focused on the wrong car I guess. I thought we were racing the 33 and my crew chief said that the 18 was the leader. I thought he hadn't pitted yet, but he had and took two tires. That was the call that won the race. He was in the best position being back there watching what we were going to do and then doing the opposite. It didn't work out the way we wanted to.
"I did not think of two tires until we were jacking up the left side of the car. I wondered being so close to the end if someone would take two, but I didn't think about it more than that. I guess it is a little bit of a shame it didn't come down to a battle at the end. It could have though. A little slower stop on Kyle's car or a caution would have made it an insane finish," Edwards said.
Harvick closed out the race third after holding point seven times for a race-best 64 laps, Edwards' teammate Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., nailed down fourth and Elliott Sadler rounded out the race top five.
Stenhouse, Jr., assumed the lead in the series point standings by snaring his first top-five and fourth top-10 finish of the season. The performance also marked his first career top-five Fontana finish in the series after placing 39th and 29th in two Auto Club Speedway events last season.
He will hold a six-point cushion over Jason Leffler when the series takes the green flag for its April 8 event at Texas Motor Speedway. Coverage is set for an 8:00 p.m., start on Performance Racing Network radio and Sirius XM 128. ESPN2 picks up its coverage at 8:30 p.m.
The series will race at Kentucky Speedway July 8 as part of an inaugural "Quaker State 400" NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tripleheader weekend. The action opens July 7 with a 225-mile Camping World Truck Series battle and culminates with the July 9 Sprint Cup track debut.
Click the links below to reserve tickets and camping.
Story by Mike Schmaltz