Whether Kyle Busch was going to have enough to get by Jimmie Johnson for the win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway is debatable. But after making contact with the wall early in the AAA Texas 500, it appeared that Busch was set to finish off an impressive charge back toward the front.
And then, after pitting for the final time with 35 laps to go, it all disappeared when NASCAR penalized him for speeding on pit road. The subsequent drive-through tossed Busch back to 15th and he was only able to grab two of the lost spots before finishing 13th.
After winning at Texas in the spring, Busch needed another victory to truly keep himself in the hunt for the Sprint Cup championship. Instead, he’ll have to hope against hope that Johnson and Matt Kenseth, the top two in the standings, stumble over the final two races and give him a real shot at the title. Busch now lies fourth in the Chase at 52 points behind Johnson.
“We battled back from a lot of stuff today, between the tire unraveling and almost overheating,” he said in a statement. “I have to take responsibility for the speeding penalty there at the end. You try to get all you can on pit road because you can make up a lot of time under green, and we just took too much.
“My guys worked really hard this weekend and gave me a great car. Just wish I would have got the finish these guys deserved.”
On Lap 58, Busch scraped the Turn 2 wall while battling Kenseth for second, bringing out the yellow. It forced multiple visits by Busch to pit road for repairs under the caution but even though he had to restart in 29th, he was able to avoid going a lap down.
Busch steadily moved through the field, rising into the Top 15 by Lap 100 and into the Top 10 a short time later. He eventually got to second by Lap 177 before being forced to drop back to fourth after a piece of debris was caught on the grille of his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota; Busch would use the rear bumper of Brad Keselowski to help blow off the debris and get his car’s engine temperatures back to normal.
But while Busch was able to stay in the Top 5 after that, the penalty after his final stop on Lap 299 undid what had been a valiant effort. Afterwards, his crew chief, Dave Rogers, said that the team still “had his back.”
“Things were looking pretty good there, but like I told Kyle after the race – on a team, everybody is giving 100 percent and when everybody is giving 100 percent, sometimes they give 100.1 and that .1 gets you in trouble,” he said.
“…He was giving us all he had to give us the best finish possible and we took a little bit more than what was there. That’s okay, we’ll go to Phoenix and Homestead and race them.”