Late pit road speeding penalty stops Kyle Busch’s rally

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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.”

MRTI: Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.

Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.

The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.

Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia heads to Barber leading the Indy Lights championship on the strength of finishes of second and first in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
  • Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
  • Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
  • Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
  • Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
  • Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
  • Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.

A full weekend schedule, including the Mazda Road to Indy sessions, can be viewed here.

**Note: NBCSN will broadcast Sunday’s Indy Lights race (Race 2 from the weekend) on Monday, April 23.**

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