Sunday, June 14, 2015

CUP: Kyle Busch Nabs First Cup Last-Place Finish For #18 At Michigan Since 1976

SOURCE: FOX Sports 1,
Kyle Busch picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #18 M&M’s Crispy Toyota fell out after a single-car accident ended his run at 52 of the rain-shortened 138 laps.

The finish, which occurred in Busch’s 369th series start, was his first of the 2015 season.  It was also his first in a Cup race since September 21, 2008, when his #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota lost the engine after 172 laps of the Camping World RV 400 presented by AAA at Dover - 239 races ago.

That last-place run in 2008 derailed Busch’s impressive first season with Joe Gibbs Racing in the flagship #18, an eight-win season resulting in just a 10th-place finish in the standings.  In the six seasons that followed, Busch would win 17 more Cup races while dominating both the XFINITY and Truck Series as a part-time competitor.  It was during one of these bonus races in February where Busch suffered a broken right leg and left foot after crashing into an unprotected fence, the injuries taking him out of his car until just last month at Charlotte.

Saturday at Michigan, Busch returned to the XFINITY Series for the first time since Daytona and took the victory - his 71st in just 298 series starts.  This done, Busch looked to Sunday’s race and his continued effort to make the field for this year’s Chase.  Granted a medical exemption by NASCAR officials, Busch would still have to win a race and average a 17th-place finish to make the cut.  Unfortunately, an 11th-place run at Charlotte and 9th at Pocono was weighed down by a costly wreck at Dover that left him 36th, dropping his average to 18.67.  With just 12 chances left to win, Busch knew that a weekend sweep would be a game-changer.

Busch turned in the 18th-fastest lap in Friday’s opening practice and timed in 10th in qualifying as the second-fastest Toyota behind teammate Carl Edwards.  Busch then jumped to 4th-fastest in the second practice session and was 2nd to Jeff Gordon in Happy Hour.

On Sunday, Matt DiBenedetto started 43rd in BK Racing’s #83 Burger King Toyota, joined by teammate J.J. Yeley after his engine change in the #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota, but neither held the spot for long.  Heading into Turn 3, Alex Bowman’s 36th-place #7 Chevrolet slid up the track with an apparent cut right-rear tire.  Bowman immediately cut to pit road, the stop costing him two laps.  He got one lap back during the first of several rain-caused cautions on Lap 12, but just before the Lap 19 restart lost another right-rear tire, shredding away the crush panels and prolonging the yellow.  Bowman pulled behind the wall to allow the crew to make repairs while the other 42 competitors remained on the lead lap.

Then, on Lap 53, Busch found trouble.  Running 6th during a restart after another rain delay, Busch’s #18 was trying to pass brother Kurt Busch’s #41 HAAS Automation Chevrolet for 5th when Kyle lost control and slapped the outside wall with the right-front and right-rear of his machine.  Fortunately uninjured in the accident, Busch was able to drive his car to the garage area.  By that time, Busch had fallen to 42nd, a handful of laps ahead of the still-stopped Bowman.  The two were joined on Lap 64 by David Gilliland, whose #38 Love’s Travel Stops Ford smacked the outside wall but did not bring out the caution.

On Lap 73, Bowman returned to the track 51 laps down.  Busch’s team was still trying to make repairs, no one certain whether the persistent rains would end the race at Lap 101.  When the skies cleared, Bowman continued on track while Busch remained in the garage area, allowing Bowman to bump Busch to last on Lap 104 and Gilliland to 42nd on Lap 117.  When the heaviest rainfall yet ended the race at 138 laps, both Busch and Gilliland were still in the garage area and out of the race.  Bowman came home as the final car under power, 52 laps down.  Rounding out the Bottom Five were Mike Bliss in Archie St. Hillaire’s #32 Skuttle Tight / Ford with DiBenedetto in 39th also four laps down.

With 11 races remaining, Busch’s average finish in 4 Cup starts this year is now 24.8.

Joe Frasson's last-place car at Michigan, 1976
SOURCE: John Betts, Stock Car Racers Reunion
*This is the first last-place finish for the #18 in a Cup race at Michigan since June 20, 1976 when Joe Frasson’s #18 Excuse Lounge Chevrolet lost the engine after 1 lap of the Cam 2 Motor Oil 400, won by David Pearson.  Frasson, a temperamental owner-driver from Golden Valley, Minnesota, made 107 Cup starts from 1969 through 1978.  His best career finishes were a pair of 3rd-place runs at Darlington in 1972 and at Texas World Speedway in 1973.  Frasson’s brightly-painted machines occasionally carried sponsorship which ranged from Pizza Hut to his family’s cement company.
*Busch previously finished last in a Cup race at Michigan just one other time  - on August 21, 2005, Busch’s #5 Kellogg’s Chevrolet started 4th and led 28 laps, but overheated after 81 circuits due to debris that became stuck to the front valence.  That same race, the GFS Marketplace 400, saw Jeremy Mayfield’s 5th and most recent Cup Series victory.

43) #18-Kyle Busch / 52 laps / crash
42) #38-David Gilliland / 64 laps / crash
41) #7-Alex Bowman / 84 laps / running
40) #32-Mike Bliss / 136 laps / running
39) #83-Matt DiBenedetto / 136 laps / running

1st) Landon Cassill (3)
2nd) Alex Bowman (2)
3rd) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, Sam Hornish, Jr., Brian Scott, J.J. Yeley (1)

1st) Hillman Smith Motorsports (3)
2nd) Richard Petty Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (2)
3rd) BK Racing, Go FAS Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (9)
2nd) Ford (4)
3rd) Toyota (2)

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