By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Sporting his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship-winning paint scheme in front of his home crowd, Kurt Busch’s homecoming was a success after a wise pit strategy put him in front for 23 of 267 laps, and scored a fifth-place finish in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Throughout the afternoon, Busch’s No. 1 Star Nursery Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 had his work cut out for after starting 28th and was outside the top-10 in the first two stages, with one of the adjustments made his car tight.
This is when Busch’s team called a huge audible. By pitting earlier in Stage 2, Busch could have an advantage where he didn’t have to pit under caution.
The plan was made to see how the car would fare by running in clean air, and when pit road opened, he stayed out.
“We made one adjustment and I got really tight in traffic. And then our pit strategist was saying if we stay long on the second stage, then we can stay out. So, we worked that,” Busch on staying out. “It played out where we got clean air and it completely changed the complexion of the car. And that’s what we have to do.”
It proved to be a difference maker as Busch would restart in first, alongside Stage 2 winner Joey Logano.
The two battled hard for first and although the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion led a lap, the 2004 champion fought back to regain the top spot entering Turn 4, and led the next 18 laps.
Logano would head on to win the race, but Busch remained optimistic of scoring his second straight top-five finish. More so, that he was able to keep the lead with older tires.
“I was really happy that we were able to stay out long,” said Busch. “Around the second stage we didn’t get any stage points today, but it positioned us well to make a run at the checkers and we got fifth today.”
Currently tenth in points, Busch added that his young season at Chip Ganassi Racing has gone well, thanks to the team staying on top of things from the engine shop to his No. 1 pit crew, who have yet to been handcuffed with penalties.
“The power of those first few guys altogether it’s aero, it’s engine, it’s handling and that is what we have to work on,” Busch explained. “I’m really happy with two top fives to start the year. We are playing it smart. We haven’t had any penalties and we will just keep chipping away at it.”
Furthermore, Busch stated that the balance of the car was right to his liking and gained some takeaways that could help make the team stronger heading into ISM Raceway March 10, specifically when it’s running in different types of air.
“When we’re in clean air, the car is like this. When we’re in dirty air, the car is like that. I’ve got to get it to where its balanced evenly,” said Busch. “But it gave us a lot to learn from today and I’m really proud of everybody to get a top five. Hometown track, Star Nursery on board. It gave me chills at one point, but I’m like hey, we’ve got to get the job done. And now we’ve got two top fives to start the year, but we know we’ve got some more work to do.”