Busch Buries 12th NNS Victory in California
Resiliency and quick pit road work by the NASCAR Nationwide Series No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team catapulted Kyle Busch to a 300-mile Auto Club Speedway victory and extended his all-time single-series record victory total to 12.
Busch drew a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 87 of 150, but returned to the front of the pack by working with Crew Chief Jason Ratcliff to adjust his car. The No. 18 crew dealt a decisive blow by helping Busch steal the race lead from Kevin Harvick's No. 33 during a fourth and final pit stop on Lap 128.
The Joe Gibbs Racing rocket led the race four times for a total of 38 laps and closed out a 1.034 seconds victory by navigating through three late caution periods and staying out front through the last 23 circuits. Championship leader Brad Keselowski took second, Harvick crossed the finish line third, second-place championship driver Carl Edwards placed fourth and three-time Kentucky Speedway NNS race winner Joey Logano completed the top five.
"When it counted, these guys got us off pit road first and got us track position. Kyle kept giving good feedback, we worked on it and worked on it and finally hit a combination that was good. We hit on making the entry better and the exit better, but we never hit on making them both better. We finally determined which one was worth the most speed and I kept going that direction.
"There at the end, we swung at it a little bit. Kyle had some good suggestions when he hit pit road. I was like, 'Whew, I don't know if we can get all that done.' Our catch can guy looked up, gave a nod, and said, 'Oh yeah, I can make it happen.' Great win for us," Ratcliff said.
The combined efforts brought Busch his second victory in his past three series starts and third consecutive top-three finish. He's collected a total of 20 top-five and 22 top-10 finishes in 25 starts this season. He has won three races this season after rebounding from pit road speeding penalties.
"I don't like doing it that late in a race, it makes it a little bit harder and you never know what could happen. We saw those late cautions. That could happen at the point I get a penalty and we could go to the back and get caught up in one of those. Fortunately, it all worked out our way.
"Jason does a great job, that's why he's who he is. The guys did an awesome job and that's probably what won us this race. The car was fast. Harvick had a really, really good car on long runs and he showed that. He probably had the best car, but ours was good enough to be where it needed to be on the front side of those runs, we had enough cautions and we held him off. For us to get number 12, it's awesome," Busch said.
He emerged from the race third in the series standings and 485 points behind Keselowski, who delivered his second straight and third runner-up finish in the last four races to raise his season totals to 21 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes.
Keselowski extended his championship lead 10 points to 384 over Edwards.
"The 18 and 20 (Logano) have just had a little more speed than us on the mile and a halves. We still had a great points day and did everything we wanted to do except win the race. I'm happy with the effort and proud of the team," Keselowski said.
Harvick led a race-high 86 laps but fell victim to pit road mistakes and reluctantly drove to his 15th top-five and 22nd series finish of the season. He is sixth in the series standings and 1001 points off the lead.
"You look at the positives and how fast our car was. Two weeks in a row we've come with something different - probably to the Gibbs' cars best racetracks - took the best car and gave it away on pit road.
"Our cars are tremendously better than what they have been. We took that next step and obviously we have to take the next step on pit road because they're doing a terrible job. We have to fix that, that's not what our operation is all about. If they can't stand the pressure, they're going to have to go find something else to do," Harvick said.
Edwards netted his 16th top-five and 23rd top-10 finish of the season and will head to the series Oct. 15 Charlotte Motor Speedway race with five events remaining to thwart Keselowski's drive toward a first series championship.
"At the end, I thought we had a chance at it (the victory) but we ended up finishing fourth. Overall, I think our Fusion was a seventh-place car all day, so I'm pretty pleased. We'll continue, go forward and hopefully have a good run at Charlotte," he said.
Race coverage begins at 7:30 p.m., on ESPN2, Performance Racing Network radio and Sirius XM 128.
Story by Mike Schmaltz