By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
MARTINSVILLE, VA – A top-10 finish for Kurt Busch in the Blue Emu 400 was a refreshing return to form after two weeks of struggles.
Although the Las Vegas, NV native’s No. 45 McDonald’s / Money Lion Toyota Camry started outside the top-15, the speed his car had was on display. Busch climbed through the field into the top-10 by the end of Stage 1. The 23XI Racing driver remained in the top-10 throughout most of the 400-lap race at Martinsville Speedway.
The rebound comes after two weeks of finishes outside the top-30. At Circuit of the Americas Busch was swept up in a late-race accident. Richmond Raceway saw an early fuel pump issue.
In the final Stage of the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 Busch moved inside the top-five. He climbed as far up the running order as fourth. However, with a lack of tire wear, passing late in a green flag run was a struggle. Ryan Blaney took fourth just before the final caution of the race. An incident for Todd Gilliland pushed the race into overtime.
Though passing was tough on the long run, restarts provided more opportunities for the NASCAR Cup Series competitors to gain positions. In the jockeying on the final two laps, Ross Chastain worked his way by Busch on the outside. When the checkered flag waved, Kurt Busch narrowly beat his younger brother Kyle Busch to the line for sixth.
“I did all that I could on the loose side of things with the 45 Toyota TRD Camry,” explained Kurt Busch. “I mean, I have never been told how to drive so many laps in my life. And then when I go back to my line, I’d feel the most comfortable and the lap time would be off by a little bit. So, it’s like just comfort versus what I know for as many years. It was really fun though to drive Martinsville this way with this Next Gen car, but really had to work hard and I just think we maximized today.
“Our loose run was stage two, we were 12th and then just couldn’t quite attack you know, steering wheel and throttle at the same time. And I needed the pace to drop off and longer green runs seem to help us. All in all, really happy. We know that sixth is good to right the ship for what we need to do at 23XI Racing. But overall, we need to pick it up.”
After reaching the top-10 at the end of Stage 1, Busch faltered. A loose condition on his Toyota Camry dropped him out of the top-10, and the points, when the Stage 2 concluded.
The sixth-place finish is the fourth top-10 for Busch this season. It’s also the 335th top-10 finish in his Cup Series career.
The top-10 moved Busch from 18th to 16th in the championship points standings. However, with Denny Hamlin’s win at Richmond and being outside the top-16, Busch is currently on the outside, looking in for the Cup Series playoff grid. The 43-year-old is 10-points behind the cutline. Busch is 101-points behind leader Chase Elliott.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo.