Yet again, Kyle Busch was painfully reminded that sometimes the fastest car doesn’t always win. The driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing led five times for a race-high 173 laps in Monday’s rain-delayed and rain-shortened Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. But after pitting on lap 222, the skies opened up and NASCAR officials called the race 173 laps short of its scheduled 400-lap distance, forcing Busch and his M&M’s team to settle for a sixth-place finish.
The latest piece of bad luck came on the heels of Busch leading three times for a race-high 98 laps in Saturday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Charlotte before an untimely caution forced him to settle for a third-place finish as rain cut short that event as well.
“Our car was pretty good on short runs. We were making gains on it for the long runs, too,” said Busch, who notched his fifth top-10 finish in 11 career Sprint Cup starts at Charlotte. “Getting stuck in traffic kind of hurt us. Weather – you can’t do anything about it really. We knew it was coming, we knew it was here, but we weren’t going to be able to ride around under caution for more than five laps. That was all the fuel we had left. We had to come down and put gas in it. Fortunately, a lot of guys like us took four tires so we didn’t lose that much ground. The 99 (Carl Edwards) and the 83 (Brian Vickers) took two (tires), so they got out in front of us. It only hurt us two spots, so we finished sixth.”
Busch started on the outside of row one and quickly passed polesitter Ryan Newman to take the lead on lap three. Busch held the top spot, aside from pit stop cycles, until lap 119 when Vickers passed him for the lead. But Vickers lead proved to be short-lived as a fast, green flag pit stop on lap 129 by the M&M’s team got Busch back out front on lap 134.
In the meantime, intermittent rain showers had red-flagged the race on three different occasions until just past the halfway point. As another rain shower forced a caution flag on lap 221, Busch and crew chief Steve Addington had a decision to make. With fuel running low and the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota leading, do they pit and give up the lead, or gamble and stay out, banking on the fact that rain will force the end of the event early? But if the race goes back to green, then the M&M’s team would have to pit.
Addington chose the first option and made the decision to pit and take four tires on lap 222. The move slotted him in sixth-place behind eventual race winner David Reutimann, Ryan Newman and Robby Gordon, all of whom elected to stay out. Meanwhile, Edwards and Vickers beat the No. 18 team out of the pits after taking just two tires and fuel.
But after waiting almost two hours, NASCAR called the race official, and there was nothing Busch and Addington could do other than chalk up their scuttled shot at victory to bad luck.
“We were looking at the radar all day long and the rain would get close to us and break up, we’d get a few little sprinkles in and they’d stop the race,” said Addington. “I thought we’d wait to later than 6:30 to call this since they do have lights here. I’m running a different race than they (NASCAR) are running. I’m racing against the guys that we raced against all day long, and if it went back green, we were sitting in the catbird seat again. I’m just really proud of Kyle and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing and all these guys on this M&M’s team because they worked their butts off and we had a sixth-place finish to show for it after leading the most laps again.”
With 12 of 36 races complete, Busch gained one spot to move up to sixth in the championship point race, where he now sits 182 markers behind series leader Jeff Gordon.