DOVER, Del. - Kyle Busch's recent results in spring races at Dover International Speedway can be distilled into one visual image-a piece of a broken drive shaft lying on the racing surface more than 100 laps before Sunday's AAA 400 was scheduled to end.
From the outset, Busch complained of a vibration in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Nevertheless, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series leader was able to keep his car in the top five until the driveshaft broke on Lap 272, knocking Busch out of the race in 35th place.
"We started the race with it, unfortunately, and it just kept getting worse and worse as the day was going," said Busch, who was running third when the failure occurred. "I don't know why we started the race with it - we hadn't had anything like that in a long, long time. I know what it was, but not sure why we had the problem to begin with...
"It just got so bad there that last run vibrating it even blew the shifter ball off the shifter, and when it finally broke, I couldn't even grab the shifter in order to knock it out of gear so I could just push the clutch in, so I had to nurse it back and get out of everybody's way."
Busch said the issue came as a complete surprise.
"We've never had that problem before," he said. "We'll have to go back to the shop and diagnose it, try to figure it out. It's kind of weird.
"We've had issues like that in practices before, and we've been able to figure it out early enough to not have the problem in the race, but this weekend we never had that issue at all until the race started, so felt weird about how that went down."
Busch has now failed to finish four of the last five spring races at Dover. The good news is that he retained the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series lead by 22 points of Joey Logano (13th Sunday) and 40 over race winner Kevin Harvick.
DANIEL SUAREZ TIES CAREER-BEST FINISH WITH THIRD AT DOVER
For Daniel Suarez, Sunday's third-place finish was particularly satisfying, not simply because it was a career-best effort on an oval track in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, but, in a broader sense, because it's emblematic of the progress he and his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team are making.
After rain delayed the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, Suarez restarted fifth with 75 laps left, grabbed third place in short order and held it the rest of the way, despite a determined charge from reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. behind him.
"Just overall, just very proud of my team," said Suarez, whose only other third-place finish-and only other career top five-came last year on the Watkins Glen International road course. "I would like to say that the entire year we have had good speed pretty much everywhere we go, top 10s, top 5s sometimes.
"We just haven't been able to get the deal done, and especially in the first month and a half of the season, just struggling a lot. I feel like I was putting a lot of pressure on myself earlier in the season, trying to put a lot of pressure on the team to get the results. The (current) month and a half, couple months, has been more relaxed."
Does that mean a victory may be in the offing?
"I feel like if we keep running the way that we're running today, top 5, top 10-pretty much all day long we were running in the top 10-I think it can happen any time. We just have to somehow beat the 4 car (race winner Kevin Harvick).
"The 4 car today was in a different league. Normally if you can run in the top 5, you can have a shot any time. Those crazy restarts and stuff. Like I said, overall very proud of my team. I feel like we are moving in the right direction. We just have to keep it up."
FRUSTRATED MARTIN TRUEX JR. FINISHES FOURTH
With a fourth-place finish in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. collected his fourth straight top five at the track nearest his Mayetta, New Jersey, home, but that was small consolation for a driver who was frustrated at being unable to contend for the victory.
Compounding Truex's issues was an unscheduled pit stop for a flat tire on Lap 96, 24 circuits before the end of the second stage. That cost Truex a lap he had to regain on a wave-around.
"It was up and down, you know?" Truex said. "I thought we were pretty good at the beginning of the race and lost that lap and had to come from the back. Just really hard to pass here today. Our car was fast in clean air, but I couldn't pass anybody - especially those last 200 laps once we got somewhere up towards the front.
"So it was all about where we come off pit road and how we restarted and it's frustrating, but we just couldn't seem to make the car turn off the corner all day long. It was tight from the get-go, and that really hindered me in traffic."
--- NASCAR Wire Service ---