Pit road snafus derail strong run by polesitter Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch can expect some second-guessing after mistakes in Sunday's Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway relegated the polesitter to a 15th-place finish.
Before the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff opener, Busch's #18 Joe Gibbs Racing team swapped his regular-season pit crew for the over-the-wall unit of teammate Daniel Suarez.
After winning the first stage of the race and leading all but two laps, Busch pitted under caution on Lap 83. But eight circuits after the subsequent restart on Lap 88, he brought the #18 Toyota to pit road for an unscheduled green-flag stop because of a loose wheel. During the stop, one of Busch's crewman was hit with a penalty for stepping over pit wall too soon, and after the resultant pass-through penalty, Busch dropped to 30th in the running order, two laps down.
On fresh tires, Busch regained one of the lost laps on the track but never could return to the lead lap. He finished 15th as the first driver one lap down but remained fifth in the standings, thanks in large part to the stage victory and the 29 playoff points he carried into the Round of 16.
Nevertheless, Busch was clearly disappointed after climbing from his car.
"We had such a fast Skittles Sweet Heat Camry," said Busch, who led a race-high 85 laps before his race fell apart on pit road. "It's just disappointing that we had trouble on pit road like that. We just never had the opportunity with how the cautions fell to get back on the lead lap.
"We'll get back to the shop and talk about it, and really all we can do is move on and put it behind us."
Asked whether he had second thoughts about the pit crew swap, Busch said tersely, "Movin' on."
BRAD KESELOWSKI STARTS PLAYOFFS WITH SOLID SIXTH-PLACE RUN
For a driver who stirred up controversy before the start of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, Brad Keselowski had a relatively uneventful afternoon in Sunday's Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Before qualifying on Friday, Keselowski raised the issue of parity in the sport, ascribing to the Toyota camp a significant performance advantage. True enough, Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. ran away with the playoff opener. Keselowski didn't have the speed to match Truex's Camry. Then again, no one else did either.
But for Keselowski, the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion, it was the sort of solid start to the playoff he needed, leaving him fourth in the standings heading to next Sunday's race at New Hampshire.
"Yeah, we can be happy with sixth," Keselowski said. "We scored a bunch of stage points and had a solid day up front. One more of these races-either Loudon or Dover-and we should be good to advance to the next round.
"I think we can pull that off. We're still looking for a little speed but execution today was really, really strong. Great day on pit road, great restarts. All that stuff was what you look for. We just need to marry that up with some speed, and we can win any of these races."
NICE RECOVERY KEEPS JAMIE MCMURRAY ABOVE PLAYOFF CUT LINE
On Lap 168 of Sunday's Tales of the Turtles 400, Jamie McMurray had the sort of nerve-wracking experience that could have ruined his chances to advance in the NASCAR Playoffs. Coming off Turn 2 at 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway, McMurray spun, flattened his right rear tire and damaged the right rear quarter of his car. But McMurray persevered, stayed on the lead lap and finished 10th. That and a litany of troubles for other playoff drivers kept him in 11th place in the standings, five points clear of 13th place.
"There were a lot of issues for people in the Playoffs, it looked like," McMurray said. "So 10th-place isn't bad. I think we finished 10th in one of the stages as well. I don't know what happened on the backstretch.
"I think I just didn't give the #31 (Newman) enough room, and it got me turned around. We were lucky the caution kind of fell right, and then we had a pretty fast car as well. We were faster probably at the beginning than we were at the end, but overall it was a good way to start the first race."
--- By Reid Spencer NASCAR Wire Service ---