By David Morgan, Associate Editor
“Well, ****,” Kyle Busch exclaimed over his team radio as the laps wound down during Saturday’s NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway.
A number of laps earlier, the 199-time NASCAR National Series winner looked to be on autopilot toward win No. 200, but a trip to pit road on lap 115 changed everything.
After leading 98 laps and winning the first two stages, the penultimate caution of the race brought the field to pit road for routine service, but for the No. 18 team it was anything but. First, Busch lost a handful of spots after a slow stop and then the dagger came when the team was busted for an uncontrolled tire penalty, dropping him to the tail end of the field for the ensuing restart.
Despite the setback, there were still 35 laps to go in the 300-mile event – a hurdle that should have been easy to clear by Busch in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. While his team told him he could pull off the comeback, Busch was less positive about his chances.
Kyle Busch is told by team he has 35 laps to go and can still do this.
Kyle’s response to team: “You are fucking on crack.”
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) March 16, 2019
When the green flag flew for the restart, Busch began his march back through the field, methodically making his way past car after car as the laps clicked away. By the time the final caution flag flew on lap 125, Busch had climbed back up to seventh, giving him a real shot at the win.
Busch came off pit road fourth during the caution, but would restart sixth thanks to Michael Annett and Noah Gragson staying out on older tires.
A chaotic restart saw Busch jump up to third, while Cole Custer took over the lead and Christopher Bell slotted into second with 18 laps to go.
Four laps later, Busch passed his JGR teammate Bell for second and set his sights on chasing down Custer over the final laps of the race. Any other day, it should have been an easy feat, but Busch was only able to close to within a second of Custer before eventually losing time to the California native, crossing the line 1.927 seconds back.
“I just wasn’t fast enough,” Busch said. “At the end there, he (Custer) was really good and really fast and had a good car. They got better throughout the day and got closer to our rear bumper there on that second-to-last run before we had our pit road problems and dropped us back in the pack.
“Obviously, we were able to rebound, but when you have a fast guy out front and a fast guy in second, they run the same times and they stay the same distance apart. We just weren’t quick enough there at the end to chase them down. Hate it for all the iK9 Supra guys and everybody that supports us and supports our program. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
As for the chase for win No. 200, Busch will roll off fourth for Sunday’s 200-lap Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.