Kyle Busch has never hidden the fact that he hates the paper-clip half-mile of the Martinsville Speedway.
Busch has never won at the track in Virginia, where’s he’s never quite figured out “how to drive the place,” which would result in a good finish.
Seems 500 miles of using your brake pedal more than the gas pedal doesn’t fit with Busch’s driving style.
With only an average finish of 18.9, Busch is most likely going to be struggling near the back of the pack on Sunday afternoons. Earlier this year he finished 24th, which included a spin in turn three, and in both races last year he was credited with 29th- and 38th-place finishes.
Busch has only led twice at the track in his nine Cup starts, for 10 laps in April 2007 and 109 laps in the fall race of that year. Since then, it’s been races to forget at the bullring.
“If I had Jeff Gordon’s or Jimmie Johnson’s success there, then I would be comfortable going there. I just haven’t had any success there yet,” Busch says.
Sunday’s Tums Fast Relief 500 looked like it would be another frustrating day for the No. 18 team after a 41st-place qualifying effort. But Busch told the team that the car was decent for race trim and for when race time approached.
A different Kyle Busch then approached Martinsville on Sunday and the long task ahead of him. Slowly marching his way from 41st to the top ten, where he stayed the majority of the day.
Busch finally found his rhythm at the tough old track and was even loose on the radio at times during the day. At one time saying he was getting cut off by other drivers and that “it must be the black car, I’m like a ghost; they [other drivers] can’t see me.”
The black car that Busch was referring to was his Halloween painted M&M’s Camry and just before the 200 lap mark the No. 18 team decided to play their first trick on the competition.
Busch came down pit road for two tires and a wedge adjustment and restarted just outside the top ten. When the next caution came out on lap 176, Busch then stayed out on the track while most the leaders pitted and moved up to third position.
Just a couple of laps later, he would take the lead from teammate Denny Hamlin by driving by him on the outside.
Throughout the remaining part of the race, Busch stayed between fifth and 15th, only making minor wedge or air pressure adjustments to the car all day.
With less than 60 laps to go, Busch played his last trick and again came back down pit road for four tires and one last charge to the front.
Restarting 15th, he worked his way back into the top ten easily on his new tires and with nine laps to go he was back up in the top five.
As teammate Hamlin celebrated in victory lane, Busch’s fourth-place finish must have been one sweet treat and felt like a win for his team. It was their first top five finish at the track since he finished fourth in both races in 2007.
Crew chief Steve Addington, who is rumored to be removed from the team after this season, was very pleased with his driver’s efforts.
“Kyle was real patient at the beginning of the race. He picked his way through traffic, so just a real good job from everybody. I appreciate everybody’s hard work this weekend on that car.”
The finish was a step in the right direction for the team as they try to finish the year with something to work on for next season. Busch didn’t qualify for this season Chase for the Championship, even though he won four races earlier this season.
The remaining races of this season are all about getting back to their winning ways and the success they enjoyed last year and part of this season. Sunday helped their chances by conquering their toughest track.
“I’m real proud of the effort,” said Busch of his finish.
And just like Addington before him, Busch credited the crew for all their hard work. “The guys had awesome pit stops all day. The guys worked hard. We made a lot of changes today.”
He then went on to explain the late-race decision to come down pit road for tires.
“Tires were the name of the game. We just seemed to be on the right strategy when we could come get tires and drive back through some guys,” he said.
“We had a good enough car to do that with.”