By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Kyle Busch started the weekend in Las Vegas rolling a pair of snake eyes, with a crash in the opening minutes of practice forcing him to a backup car for the remainder of the weekend.
Despite the setback, Busch nearly came back to win at his home track, but a late race caution while Busch was leading would ultimately see him end the day in fourth-place.
Following his practice crash, Joe Gibbs Racing went to work on readying the backup car and after thrashing all night long to get it in racing shape, Busch’s freshly wrapped No. 18 Toyota was rolled to the grid for the race, where he would start shotgun on the field.
Busch was a man on a mission early in the race, advancing all the way up to 18th by the time the competition caution flew on lap 30, but the same bad luck he had faced to start the weekend returned in the form of a shifter issue that the team would have to diagnose and fix.
The team was able to get the shifter fixed under the competition caution, but Busch fell back to 29th when the race went back to green on lap 35.
Mired back in traffic, Busch ran into more trouble on lap 44 when he found himself involved in a four-car incident in Turn 2. Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric made contact and spun in front of Busch, with Busch’s car getting sideways momentarily behind them before he was able to correct it and keep going.
Although the first stage hadn’t gone Busch’s way, his luck was about to take a turn for the better as he would climb into the top-10 by the end of the first stage on lap 80.
By lap 106, Busch found himself in the lead for the first time with a seven-lap stint atop the leaderboard, eventually finishing the second stage in fifth-place.
The final stage would see Busch back in the lead once again, this time for a much longer duration, leading the way for 42 laps between lap 224 and 266, with Busch battling with teammate Martin Truex, Jr. in the closing laps with the finish in sight.
However, things are never easy in Las Vegas and Lady Luck threw another wrinkle into Busch’s plan with just two laps left when Erik Jones spun on the frontstretch, collecting Bubba Wallace in the process, bringing out the caution and erasing Busch’s lead.
Heading into overtime, pit strategy came into play with Hendrick Motorsports electing to go with two tires, while Busch and others went with four tires, dropping him to fourth on the ensuing restart.
When the green flag flew on the overtime restart, the Hendrick trio was too much for Busch to overcome, forcing him to have to settle for a fourth-place finish. Not quite the outcome he was hoping for, but a far cry from where he started the day.
“True testament to everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing,” Busch said. “Really appreciate my guys on the 18, but also the 11, 19 and 20 – all of them for coming over and pitching in. Everybody had a hand in being able to make us go today. So really appreciate that.
“Great Ethel M Chocolates Toyota Camry TRD Today. I mean, I was fast at the end and trying just to do what I could to hold the lead there with (Martin) Truex (Jr.). Felt like I inched away finally and we were coming to the white or something, I don’t know what it was, but anyways, it wasn’t meant to be.
“Not our day. See you next week.”