By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
HOMESTEAD, Fla. –With eight victories heading into Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kyle Busch was having a career year, tying a personal-best mark with victories and setting career-highs in top-fives (21) and top-10s (27).
However, Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota lacked rear grip throughout the race and struggled on pit road. It was an atypical performance from one of the strongest teams of the season when it counted the most.
“We just didn’t have the rear grip that we needed and I don’t know if the rear grip that we were missing on the runs related to the restarts, but I never had a good restart all night long either,” a dejected Busch said. “Every time I’m sitting there modulating throttle and not giving it gas, I’m getting beat by those guys and if I give it gas, I spin the tires. There was just nothing to be had.”
Busch qualified second, finished Stage 1 in the third position and Stage 2 in the sixth spot. But the Joe Gibbs Racing crew struggled on pit road in the early stages. Trouble on the right-front during the caution after Stage 1, Busch lost six spots and restarted back in the ninth position. The second issue cost the team four positions when the air hose got caught on the front end of his Toyota.
Busch took the lead at Lap 232 of 267 as the remainder of the contending cars hit pit road for green flag stops. The strategy call had the 2015 MENCS champion hoping for a timely caution, which came at Lap 246 when Brad Keselowski made contact with Busch’s JGR teammate Daniel Suarez. The JGR pit crew was fast when it counted, getting their driver off pit road in the P1 position.
But Busch’s car didn’t have what it took to keep up with the remainder of the Championship 4 drivers on the final run, crossing the stripe 5.566 seconds behind race-winner and 2018 champion Joey Logano. Busch’s fourth-place race result left him fourth in the championship standings.
“I knew I was just a sitting duck on that restart (with 15 laps to go). I figured I could hold them off for four laps or five laps maybe, but damn, not even a straightaway and they’re gone. That’s just all there is to it.
“We knew the 22 (Logano) was fast, but man, I thought we were way closer than that. We kind of held up the first half of the race, but after that we were just never close. I don’t know what happened, just didn’t have the feel in the race car that I needed tonight.
“Bummed for all of our guys, Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys did a phenomenal job. This M&M’s Camry team was really, really good – just not good enough on the night we wanted the most. We finished fourth, last of the Playoff guys. That’s not what it takes these days.”
As for how the Las Vegas native will remember the 2018 season?
“Lots of wins and forget about it now, move on.”