As Kyle Busch walked into the deadline room at ISM Raceway and stepped up to the podium, he let out an exhausted sigh of disappointment and frustration. He picked up the mic and walked everyone through the race for the lead in the final stage and the botched pit stop.
“Yeah, the 11 (Denny Hamlin) got out there, got out front,” he said. “He was doing a really good job of pacing the field there. Then the 4 (Kevin Harvick) kind of got to him. The 11 was holding up the 4 for a little bit. It was to our advantage actually, just being able to kind of save my tires a little bit. Slowly but surely kind of worked my way in there, closed the gap to those guys. Once I got in there, I tried to pounce as quick as I could to get through there, which helped and got us the lead. Coming into the green flag stops, had a couple guys pit a little bit before us. I don’t think that hurt us too bad, but the jack dropping certainly did.”
Busch ducked onto pit road for his final stop of the TicketGuardian 500 with 52 laps to go. The jack dropped as his crew was servicing the right side of his No. 18 Toyota Camry and he exited pit road behind Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick.
On a few laps fresher tires, he overtook Elliott — who two laps prior, was passed by Harvick — for second in the running order (once the round of pit stops cycled out). Busch couldn’t close the gap to Harvick, however, and wound up runner-up to him for the second week in a row.
He wasn’t under the delusion that Harvick would be a non-factor. The first thing he said after the race was that Harvick “had the car to beat.”
“Before the race, I knew the 4 car had the car to beat,” Busch said. “I didn’t think we were going to be the second-best car today, but we actually had a shot to race him and out-race him and beat him. But it just didn’t quite work out. Obviously, our pit stop wasn’t stellar. When I was trying to come back up through there, I got back up through there relatively good. I got relatively close. I was counting on the 9 (Elliott) to hold him up a little bit more and be able to protect that spot a little bit longer than he did. That way, I could try to get there. At least get alongside the 4 and trying to make it a three-way battle for the lead, like I did earlier when it was the 11 (Hamlin) kind of holding up the 4. Just never transpired that way.”
When all was said and done, it was a great run for Busch. He led a race-high of 128 laps and finished Top-five in both stages (won the first). He leaves Phoenix second in points (trailing Harvick by 15), he’s finished Top-10 in all but one race (the Daytona 500) and earned stage points in all but one stage.
But understandably, it doesn’t quell the frustration of falling short, especially when a mistake on pit road ultimately cost him.
“We lost the race on pit road today. There’s been races where I’ve won it on pit road, too,” Busch said. “We’ll just have to go into next week and see what we can do there.”