By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
It was looking like a story book finish to a whirlwind week for Kyle Busch as he had a three second lead in the waning laps of Sunday’s Camping World 500 at Phoenix Raceway. Then a cut tire by Busch’s biggest current rival, Joey Logano brought out a caution which ended Busch’s chances for his first win of the year.
Busch started the day from the ninth position. The driver of the No. 18 Skittles Toyota Camry worked his way to sixth early in the first segment of the race, where he would stay virtually the entire 75 lap portion of the race. In the first stage Busch radioed that his car was pretty good, but that it was a tick tight in turns three and four.
After pitting between Stage one and two, Busch’s car came to life.
By the next caution for a crash involving Corey LaJoie at lap 118, Busch had moved to the fourth position. Busch would move to third during a set of pit stops under this yellow, which is where he would end the second stage of the race.
Busch would start the final stage from the fourth position, and around lap 180 he would make his move to the front. By lap 189 he had moved around Kyle Larson for second. A few laps later, Busch’s teammate Matt Kenseth would have a tire failure which would bring out the caution again. The No. 18 pit crew stood up on this set of stops and got Busch off pit lane with the lead.
From here Busch would lead the next 114 laps — which turned out to be the most laps anyone led during the event. Just as it looked like Busch was cruising to victory lane a tire expired on Logano’s No. 22 Ford Fusion with five laps remaining, which brought out the final caution of the day.
Under this yellow, Busch and the majority of the field pitted for tires and fuel, yet Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. stayed on track to assume the top-three spots. Busch restarted behind Kyle Larson in fifth.
When the green flag came out, Busch drove like a man possessed but there just wasn’t enough time to get back to the front. Busch’s rally would stall with his No. 18 in the third position. As Ryan Newman celebrated and enjoyed the spoils of victory lane, Busch had to try to hide the disappointment of another lost opportunity.
“Everything’s great,” Busch joked in reference to his interview earlier in the week about his relationship with Logano. “We got a top five and that’s what we set out to do today and we got a third so we should be pumped about that and how good this Skittles Camry ran today. It was awesome there at the end and the guys made some really good calls there at the end – Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys did a good job being able to make some good adjustments and make it feel better once we got out front.”
Busch would continue by saying that his team should puff out their chest after their run on Sunday.
“Overall we should be proud of our run today and we will move on,” Busch said.
Although it wasn’t the win that Busch wanted and probably expected with five laps to go, this third place finish marks Busch’s first top-five finish of the 2017 season. The finish also moved Busch up six spots to 13th in the championship standings. Busch will try to continue his positive momentum as the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, where Busch has won three times in his career.