It's been a tough last couple of weeks for the Shrub.
After missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup by just eight points back in Richmond, the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota was penalized 25 owner and driver points, and crew chief Steve Addington was placed on probation for the rest of year and fined $25,000.
“The situation was caused when the left front spring became dislodged," Joe Gibbs Racing said in a statement. "This resulted in the left front corner of the car to be lower and resulted in a change to the car’s handling which had to be compensated for during the race. Consequently, the car measured low during post race inspection.’’
Looking to put all the trouble behind him, Busch and the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota headed into Dover International Speedway... and if Busch was looking to rebound, Dover wasn't the ideal place to do it.
While Shrub does have a Dover victory under his belt, his average Cup finish was 15.3 coming into the weekend.
“I'm always confident we have the car capable of going to Victory Lane,” Busch said before the green flag of the Dover 200 Nationwide race. The No. 18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota practiced in the top ten in both practice sessions, and qualified on pole.
There was no doubt Busch had a right to be confident—he finished the Nationwide Series practice sessions fifth and eighth, respectively. But could he get the car into Victory Lane?
With storms brewing just a few miles away, Rowdy led the field to the green of the Dover 200...with no ability to talk to his crew.
“The radio may not work, but Kyle has been shot out of cannon,” ESPN announcer Marty Reid said, as Busch shot ahead of the pack. Within six laps Busch had built a second lead of second place car Carl Edwards.
Busch hit lap traffic early, jumping to the high side or diving low to put cars down a lap, and by lap 20 laps just 24 cars sat on the lead lap. By lap 42, the Nationwide Series points leader had padded his lead to nearly four seconds.
On lap 56, Busch became just the second driver in Nationwide history to lead 2,000 laps in a season, the first of course being Series great Sam Ard, who did it in 1984 by leading 2,127.
Sixty three laps into the Dover 200 just 15 cars sat on the lead lap as Busch continued on his blistering pace. Erasing the five second lead on lap 82, Busch came down pit road for a 14.1 second four tire stop stop before heading back on track.
Busch cycled back to the lead on lap 91, and would continue to lead—and put cars laps down—by the time the field hit the halfway mark on lap 100.
Caution came out for the first time on lap 109 for debris, with the leaders again hitting pit road with a 12.9. Once again his crew kept him atop the scoring tower ahead of Edwards, Scott Speed, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman.
Choosing the outside line, Busch led the field to the restart on lap 116, again vaulting to the lead. However, a fast No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet of Bowyer caught the No. 18 Toyota, passing him just two laps later.
Busch was unable to capitalize on the lap 125 restart, with Bowyer on the inside pulling away from Busch's Toyota. He and Nationwide points rival Edwards battled nose to tail for second and third before Edwards made the pass on lap 129—Busch attempted the crossover, diving low to the side of the No. 60, but it was to no avail.
“We've got a little bit of radio com on a back up channel. He's a little loose and we made some adjustments on the last stop. If we can get one more stop I think we can get it fixed up,” crew chief Jason Radcliff said as his driver took second place back from Edwards on lap 139.
Lap 150 posed another chance for Busch to take advantage of Bowyer-- the two raced side by side into turn two before the No. 29 cleared Busch, but both had pulled away from the field. He lost second to Mike Bliss with 44 to go.
Busch rested in third until Brad Keselowski passed him on the restart with seven laps to go-- a restart just after Keselowski spun Rowdy's Sprint Cup teammate, Denny Hamlin. After leading 109 laps on the day, just 18 laps from tying Sam Ard's record of laps led in a year, Busch came home fourth.
"(The radio communication hurt) probably a little bit. We gave it all we had today and Jason gave it all he had with the information he had today,” Busch said, going on to say his car got looser and looser throughout the race.
With the fourth place finish, Busch is now 211 points ahead of Carl Edwards.
After that dominant performance in the Dover 200, Busch looked to repeat when he took the green flag for the AAA 400 in the 15th position.
By the competition caution on lap 25, the No. 18 had picked up just two spots to 13th when they hit pit road. In the midst of two and four tire strategies, Busch took the lap 31 restart in 20th.
After a lengthy red flag after a four car wreck, Busch didn't hesitate on the lap 37 restart, jumping to the outside line, going three wide and ultimately passing eight cars, including David Reutimann and Clint Bowyer, before getting into a side by side battle with Jimmie Johnson for eight, completing the pass as they hit the start finish line to complete 42 laps. Passing Kasey Kahne on lap 65 would send him to sixth.
Rowdy accompanied the leaders onto pit road when the fourth caution of the day came out on lap 86. He gained an impressive four spots on pit road to come out fourth after losing two spots before the caution.
Busch blasted by the No. 16 of Greg Biffle on lap 95 for third, continuing his strong run on the outside. He held his spot in the top five, but began to tighten up and had fallen to seventh on lap 153. He told his crew he was lacking overall grip and wanted an air pressure adjustment in all four tires when the team came in for their next stop.
It wouldn't be soon enough, as Rowdy lost a tire and made contact with the wall, and made his way into the pits as caution came out on lap 163 for his debris. He would restart 21st on the lap 169 restart, one lap behind the leader.
“Don't be surprised if (the tire) blows again,” Busch told his crew. “(Expletive)'s bent.”
And he was right.
Continuing to fight no grip, Busch again made hard contact with the wall on lap 207, and made contact with the wall again as he brought the caution out. Taking off his gloves and putting the window net down, Shrub drove his No. 18 Toyota to the garage. It was, for the second time for Busch in the race, a right front tire.
He had failed to finish two of the last three fall Dover races, and was in position to get his lap back when he brought the fifth caution of the day out. Fifty three laps down in 32nd, Busch returned to the track on lap 263.
With 72 laps to go Busch's woes got worse-- as he continued to run in 32nd, he was caught speeding on pit road and had to make a drive through penalty.
A disappointing day would end for Busch as he finished 31st, 58 laps behind. He would also fall a position in points to 14th, 29 points behind Matt Kenseth.
Thanks to Boston.com, Racing Reference, Jeff Gluck of NASCAR Scene and NASCAR.com for the stats and quotes used in this piece.
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