Sunday in Fontana, Busch did everything but win
By David Caraviello, NASCAR.COM
March 28, 2011 11:35 AM, EST
FONTANA, Calif. -- Kyle Busch's weekend at Auto Club Speedway began with a wet-track crash that destroyed the undercarriage of his vehicle and forced his No. 18 team to roll out a backup car. It ended in a dominant but ultimately unsatisfying performance in which the Joe Gibbs Racing driver did everything but win.
Busch led 151 of 200 laps Sunday in Southern California and seemed on the verge of his second consecutive weekend sweep until circumstances and the competition ganged up on him at the end. Two of the event's four cautions occurred over the final 30 laps, and a No. 18 car that was simply uncatchable on long runs was reeled in by the shorter green-flag periods. Trying to stay in it, Busch drove deep in the corner off the final turn, grazed the wall, and settled for third behind winner Kevin Harvick and runner-up Jimmie Johnson.
You ask a little bit more from your race car at the last moments, [and] it doesn't have anything left to give.
-- KYLE BUSCH
"Just real, real unfortunate and frustrating and disappointing all in one that we weren't able to seal the deal today," Busch said. "Just come down to the last few laps there with Jimmie first and then Kevin got into it, too, with us. You ask a little bit more from your race car at the last moments, [and] it doesn't have anything left to give. You're essentially a sitting duck waiting for those guys to drive by you. Couldn't get any more out of the car. That was it. It would push, get loose, that was all we had."
Busch was so good early that he ran out to a lead of nearly five seconds before the event's first caution, which was issued for debris 76 laps in. When crew chief Dave Rogers radioed in to ask how hard he had been pushing his car, Busch responded "maybe 90 percent." Not bad for a backup car that was pulled out after the primary spun early in opening practice Friday, when rain and drainage issues made the track slick. Busch spun into the infield, and wet grass wrecked the underside his vehicle.
"It was a whole effort this weekend," Busch said. "Especially the team guys this weekend, being able to prepare the backup car and get it out on the race track in time to get some qualifying laps, and in enough time to have a good race car [Saturday] in practice and then again today."
But the cautions at the end helped the field catch up. Busch was still out front, but others were coming. Rogers radioed to his driver that four or five other drivers had been faster than Busch in a green-flag run ended by an Andy Lally spin.
"It's never over till it's over. That's why it's called racing. That's why you have to wait until the checkered flag to see what happens," Busch said. "For all the fans that went home early when I was leading, with 20 to go, they missed a good finish, an exciting finish, with those two guys being able to battle it out on the last lap. Yeah, it's disappointing, frustrating, kind of a letdown a little bit with the guys. They worked awfully hard today. We had such a great race car. I thought we had a really good shot at it. If the race would have went green, we had a better long run car than a short run car, I felt like. Just wasn't meant to be."
But it didn't stay green. With 16 laps left Bobby Labonte hit the wall, and his wrecked car came to rest right at the entrance to pit road. Initially, Busch and the other leaders planned to pit. Rogers gave Busch the choice -- tires or track position? -- and his driver chose the former. The plan was to come in, and Rogers would make the call of two or four tires once the vehicle was in the box.
The situation changed, though, because wreckers needed several laps to move Labonte's car, setting up a shorter green-flag run at the end. Ultimately, Busch and six other contenders opted to stay out and make a dash for the victory. "All right, bud," Rogers radioed to Busch, "I just put it in the best hands in the business."
But those hands could do only so much with a car that wasn't as fast on short runs. There weren't many cautions Sunday in Fontana, but for Busch the final two altered the entire outcome.
"That last one really hurt, getting everybody back to us, especially those guys that pitted that got two tires and came through," Busch said. "... You were kind of a sitting duck. It was just a matter of time before they got there. You were hoping you could hold them off at least eight laps, nine laps, however many we had left green."
It was nine. Busch stayed out front on the restart, but on the final laps Johnson wore him down and got past. Then Harvick came storming through, and the No. 18 car didn't have anything left. Busch made one last, desperate move at the end, but got only scratches on concrete to show for it.
"I knew I was too far behind," he said. "Shouldn't have been trying. But that's me. Never give up."