By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The story of the season has been about Stewart-Haas Racing’s winning ways. For pole sitter Kurt Busch, it appeared he had the car to finally snap a 54-race winless streak and give the team its eighth win of the season.
That all ended when a pit miscue cost him several track positions and he ultimately wound up eighth in Sunday’s Foxwood Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
With 74 laps to go, Busch relinquished second and made his penultimate pit stop under green. As Busch entered the pits, Ryan Blaney was being serviced, putting the former series champion in a critical spot.
Busch waited for Blaney to exit the pits, but he was still in his pit box. This execution derailed his solid afternoon, and lost valuable seconds. Instead of waiting much longer, he went into his pit box and when the cycle of stops wrapped up, he was in fifth.
“Pit road, once in 1,000 years that’s gonna happen. We just shouldn’t have pitted on that lap,” Busch on his race-changing stop. “Blaney is a good kid. He wanted to let me go, but then I would have blocked him in. I was like, ‘No kid, go.’ That just turned into a total disaster.”
Up to that point, Busch had led a race-high 94 laps, including the first 37, once the race started over four hours past the scheduled time due to rain. Busch finished fourth in Stage 1.
Their previous pit stop got him from second to the race lead once again on Lap 155, eking out Stage 2 winner Chase Elliott and led throughout the final stage until being passed by his teammate Aric Almirola on Lap 212.
After the costly error, Busch had another shot of ending his winless streak when teammate Clint Bowyer brought out a caution on Lap 258. However, a rough restart saw Busch drop from fifth down to 11th.
Fortunately, the pole sitter was able to get by Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson to move himself up to ninth in the closing laps.
As teammate Kevin Harvick rolled onto his sixth win of the season and brought SHR its eighth win, Busch made his final pass on Joey Logano to end his disappointing afternoon in eighth.
Busch added he’s fortunate that his No. 41 Monster Energy Ford Fusion had speed to bounce back into the top-10.
“The good news is we had good speed. We had good lap times most of the day,” Busch said. “For 95 percent of the day we had pace to be a winner and to lead laps, so that’s what I take away from a day like today, where sometimes we’d be glued sixth to 10th and don’t have the power to lead laps a lot, so I’m happy with that.”
Busch spoke with his crew chief Billy Scott about their last adjustment, saying they didn’t got it right and went with his words by pitting for the change.
“We also have to do things to the car to find that right adjustment, to be able to tailor the car for speed for a win at the last 50 to 70 laps. Today, that last adjustment wasn’t quite right, so that’s what we werediscussing.
“When the crew chief says pit, I’ve got to pit. And then he says, ‘he should be gone by the time you get there,’ and sometimes wishful thinking won’t carry you through. It’s part of racing. Things like that happen.”
After 20 races, Busch now has 11 top-10s and sits fifth in the regular season standings, as he’ll shift his focus onto Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania for the Gander Outdoors 400 July 28.
Busch has won three times at the ‘Tricky Triangle,’ most recently in June 2016, but will have to improve on his performance after finishing 19th back on June 3rd.