Date: September 22, 2012
Event: Kentucky 300 (Race 27 of 33)
Series: NASCAR Nationwide Series
Location: Kentucky Speedway in Sparta (1.5-mile oval)
Start/Finish: 14th/28th (DNF Rear Gear, completed 128 of 200 laps)
Winner: Austin Dillon of Richard Childress Racing (Chevrolet)
The Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 NASCAR Nationwide Series team returned to Kentucky Speedway in Sparta Saturday with hopes of improving one spot on the second-place finish they accomplished in their first "Bluegrass State" event. A strong run by Monster Energy athlete Kurt Busch led the team to believe a victory was possible, until mechanical failure sidelined their goal. While running in the third position, just past the halfway mark, Busch experienced a loss of oil pressure and brought his black machine to pit road and subsequently the garage area. A broken rear gear would keep the team scrambling to make a repair and return to the racetrack. The internal damage was too great, however, and while final laps expired in the race, the team retired for the day, accepting a 28th-place result.
The cool day began with a 14th-place qualifying effort by support driver Matt Crafton, while Busch completed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice in Loudon, N.H. for Sunday's event. Due to the driver change, the team would lose their qualifying position. Once Busch traveled to Kentucky and strapped into the No. 54, he was required to drop back to the rear of the field and took the green flag from the back of the pack.
Two early event cautions waved and the No. 54 team remained on track while the driver and crew discussed the car's condition. "We definitely have a fierce headwind," Busch explained as windy conditions picked up over the 1.5-mile racetrack. Despite the weather, by lap 20 of the 200-lap event, Busch broke into the top 15 while recording faster lap times than the leaders. When asked about the car's handling, Busch responded, "we are snug everywhere, a 3 out of 5 tight."
A pit road visit on lap 33 would allow time to make adjustments to the Monster Energy Toyota. The team made air pressure changes to the tires and took out a spring rubber. "Good stop," described their champion driver and the team restarted 14th. Within one lap Busch had progressed to ninth and by lap 39, he broke into the top five of the field.
The team would compete amongst the leaders over the next 30 laps, moving into the third position easily when the second chance to visit pit road occurred just shy of the halfway point. "Loose in, tight off," was the feeling and the team knew more adjustments would be needed. The second pit stop of the day occurred on lap 88 when Mike Beam, team crew chief, instructed the KBM group to take on new Goodyear tires and make another spring rubber change.
Busch continued the event, past the halfway point, and reacted positively to the last round of changes. "The rear change was good, the tires are just tighter than the last set, so the front isn't hooking yet," he described as he tried to reach the first and second-place competitors. While he waited for the car to sync with the track, Busch felt a different sensation and reported to the team that engine oil pressure had begun to drop. As smoke bellowed from the rear of the No. 54, Busch brought the hurt machine to pit road and the crew began to inspect the issue. Not able to dissect the problem, Busch was instructed by the crew chief to return to the garage area. The team immediately followed and began work on the injured car.
After inspecting the bottom of the Toyota, it appeared a rear gear had seized, causing damage to the rear-end housing. Over the next 35 laps, the KBM team worked quickly to remove the broken equipment and attempted to repair and return the Camry to the race event. Once the team saw only 30 event laps remained and evaluated the workload required to get their car back on track, team leader Beam knew their day had ended and asked the team to clean up.
"That hasn't happened to me in 30 years," stated crew chief Mike Beam post race, commenting on the type of parts failure. More evaluation will take place on the broken part once the team returns to their Mooresville, N.C. shop. In the meantime, a disappointed Busch traveled back to New England, without the positive result he was hoping for alongside the No. 54 team he earned a victory with earlier in the season.
Austin Dillon, who started the event from the pole position, recorded his second NASCAR Nationwide Series win of the season. Sam Hornish Jr. finished in the second spot, while Brendan Gaughan, Drew Herring and Elliott Sadler completed the top-five finishers. There were six caution periods for 26 laps of the race along with 11 lead changes across seven drivers. The No. 54 Monster Energy team remains ninth in the Owner's Point standings, 150 points from the leader.
The Nationwide Series continues action Sept. 29 at the One Main Financial 200 from Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The television broadcast will start at 7 p.m. EST on ESPN2 and on the MRN radio broadcast. Kyle Busch will make his 17th start of the season behind the wheel of the KBM No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.