By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
SONOMA, California — Hungry for his second Toyota/Save Mart 350 victory, Kyle Busch was a man on a mission to beat Martin Truex, Jr., but the bid fell 1.861 seconds short Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.
With fresher tires, Busch’s caved-in No. 18 M&Ms Hazelnut Toyota Camry kept cutting down his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate’s 8.3 second lead with 20 laps remaining. Several laps later, Busch’s deficit just kept decreasing and the question would now become can he pass Truex?
Lapped traffic would also play a pivotal role into the race lead chase between the Gibbs teammates, but didn’t face any issues as the two continued battling for the win.
However, Busch was only able to get the margin down to 1.3 seconds with six laps remaining as his left rear tires were spent, ending a shot of scoring his fifth win of the season as Truex scored his third Sonoma victory.
“I ran pretty hard for a majority of that run, trying to get there. I didn’t think there was going to be a whole lot of a chance when I got there,” Busch on his attempt of catching his JGR teammate. “He was going to be riding around and saving his tires. Not pressing the brakes and not pressing the rubber, so I knew it was going to be a tall order to keep my momentum and speed going for the entire run.
“When I got about a second back, I tried to push it for one lap real hard to pounce on him quick to get there before he had a chance to pick it up, but I burned my left rear off it right there, and that was it with five to go.”
Earlier in the 90-lap contest, the reason behind Busch’s caved-in nose of his Camry was a result of two bumps for valuable front running position. The first was Busch bumping Ryan Blaney going into Turn 4, but the second and most significant bump took place at Turn 7 when he was duking it out with Chase Elliott. Neither competitor gave an inch and when Busch successfully passed him, he used the bumper to advance his position.
Busch said despite the noticeable damage was in a non-structural area, it did create a tight car for the rest of the afternoon.
“I got into Chase a little bit and he just slammed on the brakes to not let me push him out of the way and cut underneath him,” Busch explained. “He slammed on the brakes and it just caved in the nose, and the structure don’t have anything right there. After that, I got real tight. I couldn’t turn as good as I needed to from there on out.”
Exiting Sonoma, Busch sits second in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, just one point behind points leader Joey Logano, who finished 23rd. The championship picture was the least of Busch’s concerns, but recalls joking to Truex on Friday about how he sucks at Sonoma.
Truex commented back to ask him how was the fastest driver in practice, which he was in the morning session. Meanwhile, Busch struggled in both sessions and made the highlight reel for spinning in Turn 2 during final practice.
Busch praised Truex for being one of the best road racers and rather satisfied with his performance at the 2.52-mile circuit because he was able to keep up with his former 2004 Busch Series championship rival.
“He’s one of the best here, year in and year out. He’s always been kind of the guy to beat and the last few years, he’s been the guy to beat,” Busch on Truex. “I’m proud of the No. 18 bunch. The M&Ms Hazelnut Spread Camry was fast. We at least kept up way better this weekend to the No. 19. We were within the vicinity of the checkered flag at least.”
The Cup Series will now head to Chicagoland Speedway for the running of the Camping World 400 June 30. Chicagoland is also the sight of one of NASCAR’s best finishes of the season where Busch and Kyle Larson put on a classic battle for the ages, with Busch reigning supreme.