Kurt Busch misses pit box, battles back for top-five finish at Auto Club

Photo by Rachel Schuoler/Kickin' the Tires

By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer

Despite a costly mistake, Kurt Busch battled back to finish inside the top-five in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.

At the end of the second stage, Busch’s No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was ‘behind the eight ball.’ The 2004 NASCAR Cup Series Champion had to pit a second time during the stage break after he missed his pit box on the first try. As the final stage began, Kurt Busch lined up deep in the field behind his younger brother, Kyle Busch.

Kurt Busch followed his brother Kyle Busch through the field. The elder Busch slowly battled his way up through the field. Under 10 laps to go Kurt Busch fought with Chase Elliott for fourth. The duo traded the position back and forth until Busch cleared Elliott. Busch finished third after Ryan Blaney was forced to pit from second with three laps to go.

Busch took the blame for missing his pit box:

“I just drove right by it. I was trying to get my lights matched up and I had my car bucking back and forth. By the time I got my lights settled, I drove right by the box. Just flat out a mistake on the driver. It’s crazy. We’re trying to get all we can on pit road, that’s how tight it is. We don’t have a pit road speed limiter button.

“Our team stayed glued together. My spotter said, ‘Hey man, I know you want to go to the bottom and pass 20 of them in one lap, but you’re going to have to go to the high side and pass one every lap.’ That’s what Kyle Busch did, and we followed him right through there.”

Very early in each run, Busch’s Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was fast. Then his car would plateau for several laps before coming to back to life. Once his car came to life, he sliced through the NASCAR Cup Series field.

A clean stage one helped Busch earn a top-five in the stage. A caution in the middle of the second stage left him on the plateau at the end of the stage, and outside the top-10.

“A little spray can of grip,” joked Busch. “If I could spray some grip on her we’d be right there. We had different trends. The car would be wide open for five laps and then I’d be really fast after lap 20. If I can narrow it down, I just need to work on that transition from wide open to that partial throttle and be able to maneuver through the draft.

“That gains a lot of points back for us. I feel really good about the way the car handled this weekend. Whatever we have got to do to baseline this is what we have to do moving forward.”

The third-place finish at Auto Club Speedway was the first top-five of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season for Busch. The top-five helped him climb from 30th in the championship points standings to 21st.

Busch is now one top-10 finish away from earning his 300th career top-10. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver will have the chance to reach that milestone on March 8 in the Fan Shield 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

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