By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Busch’s spirited battle for third almost ended in disaster due to lapped traffic at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In the final Stage of the Coca-Cola 600 Busch maneuvered the No. 18 M&M’s Red, White & Blue Toyota Camry into the top-three. The two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion restarted alongside Kyle Larson’s dominant No. 5 MetroTech Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. However, Busch slipped behind both Chase Elliott and William Byron.
In the closing laps, Busch ran down Byron’s No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. The Hendrick Motorsports driver got caught in lapped traffic. Busch took advantage of that and swept by. That was until Busch himself was caught in lapped traffic. Busch checked up to avoid the slower cars due to the speed differential. That allowed Byron to sweep by to retake third.
The balance in fortune shifted back to Busch in the final 10 laps. More lapped traffic on the single-groove track allowed the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to take third back from Byron. The 36-year-old held off the Chevrolet to take the checkered flag in third.
“Some of [the lapped traffic] wasn’t so good, others were fine,” explained Busch. “Problem was that it was pretty much mainly one groove right in the middle of the racetrack. That’s where everybody wanted to be. That’s where the lapped cars wanted to be, and you had some inconsistencies where they would go on the exits. Some would go up to the wall, others would stay low and leave room.”
Although the lapped traffic caused several close moments throughout the night, most were above minimum speed. The only driver that was warned about failing to meet minimum speed was David Starr. His MBM Motorsports team adjusted the car and got him back on track above NASCAR’s minimum speed. Starr lost four laps when MBM worked on his No. 66 Toyota Camry. He finished 31 laps down.
Busch believed that it’s time NASCAR changes the minimum speed rule to prevent similar situations from playing out.
“I think I’ve said that (the rule needs to be changed) for a long time, especially in this series,” admitted Busch.
The PJ1 traction compound made Charlotte’s normally multi-groove racing surface have one preferred lane. The middle groove was dominant, making it difficult to pass. Drivers in the middle lane could stay in the throttle and hold off those in the lower groove.
“When you spray it the way they (NASCAR) sprayed it, where they sprayed it, it’s pretty one-groove dominant,” stated Busch. “You could still move around a little bit, but whenever you were trying to pass somebody that you were relatively the same speed, they just stay in the gas in the traction compound and come around on the outside. You can’t create any separation when you’re always in the gas, on the throttle”
Busch’s frustration was a poor qualifying effort. In the first qualifying session on a 1.5-mile track in a year, the Las Vegas, NV native put his Toyota Camry 20th on the starting grid.
Despite the poor qualifying effort, Busch pushed forward. By the end of Stage 1, which went caution free, he climbed into the top-10, finishing the Stage in sixth. He continued moving forward, taking the green-white checkered flag in in fourth in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. In total, Busch earned 20 additional points through the three Stages.
The third-place finish is the fifth top-five for Busch this season and the 219th of his Cup Series career.
Busch was locked into the playoffs via his win at Kansas Speedway earlier this season. The top-five finish moves him up from a tie for ninth in points to eighth. He is 157-points behind leader, and teammate, Denny Hamlin.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Jim Fluharty / Harold Hinson Photography