After making the Championship 4 for the second consecutive year to conclude the 2016 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, Kyle Busch has struggled to begin 2017.
For only the second time in his career, he failed to capture a top-10 finish in the first three races of the year. He placed 38th in the DAYTONA 500 after a crash, 16th at Atlanta, and 22nd at Las Vegas.
He looked poised to earn a top-five finish last weekend at Las Vegas, but contact with Joey Logano resulted in a last lap spin and cost him 20 positions.
The slow start to the year not only impacted the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota team but the entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization. After the domination the team displayed throughout 2016, only seeing Matt Kenseth score one top-five result through the first three races surprised many.
Redemption was on the minds of the organization and Busch heading to Phoenix International Raceway. Busch eyed a turnaround to avoid tying his career-worst start to the season from 2010 when he didn’t finish inside the top-10 till the fifth event of the year at Bristol.
He delivered on Sunday, leading a race-high 114 laps and dominating much of the Final Stage of the Camping World 500. Had it not been for the last yellow flag with six laps to go for Logano’s blown tire, Busch would have likely cruised to his second career Phoenix victory.
When the caution came out, Busch pitted along with most of the front running cars. However, as he tried to exit his pit stall, a miscue with brother Kurt Busch cost him valuable time and a couple of positions.
Now Busch lined up fifth and in the inside lane for the restart and had to challenge the three cars that stayed out under the caution. When Ricky Stenhouse Jr. didn’t get the best restart, he stacked up the bottom line, and Busch was forced three-wide into Turn 1.
After diving low going down the backstretch with two laps remaining, he moved up to third and finished there, scoring his best result of the season following a strong performance.
While Busch had Victory Lane in his sights with less than ten laps remaining, a top-five result still pointed the team in the right direction after a rough start to 2017.
“Everything’s great, we got a top five and that’s what we set out to do today and we got, a third so we should be pumped about that and how good this Skittles Camry ran today,” Busch said.
While the No. 18 team perfected the most important pit stop of the day under the final caution, the miscue on pit road with the No. 41 car, three cars staying out, and not having the top lane for the Overtime restart added up against Busch.
“We had a little miscue there on pit road with Kurt (Busch) and from there it was just too many cars that stayed out. If it was just two that stayed out maybe, but we really needed the outside like (Kyle) Larson had,” Busch said. “Overall we should be proud of our run today and we will move on.”
Much like last Sunday at Las Vegas, Busch didn’t earn the result he was in position for late in the race, and the disappointment showed.
“It seems like every finish that’s destined for us it seems to end in a worse finish that day,” Busch said.
Now Busch will take the momentum of a dominant run at Phoenix and bring it to one of his best tracks at Auto Club Speedway where he scored four consecutive top-three finishes from 2011 to 2014, including back-to-back wins in 2013 and 2014.
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