Sunday, July 18, 2021

CUP: Missed call during sudden rainstorm hands Kyle Busch second-straight Loudon last-place finish

PHOTO: @bobpockrass

Kyle Busch picked up the 8th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway when his #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota fell out in a crash after 8 of 293 laps.

The finish, which came in Busch’s 592nd series start, was his first of the season and first since this same race last year on August 2, 2020, 38 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 35th for the #18, the 170th for Toyota, and the 616th from a crash. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 48th for the #18, the 359th for Toyota, and the 1,264th from a crash.

Kyle Busch entered the New Hampshire weekend riding a wave of momentum. While he’d scored an early victory in Kansas, he’d struggled with consistency until the inaugural Circuit of the Americas weekend, where he won the XFINITY race and nearly scored Sunday’s win until he pitted just before heavy rain cut the race short. He finished 10th that day, and other than an 11th at Nashville had finished inside the Top 10 in every race since. Included in this streak was a second win at Pocono, where he overcame a failing transmission to outduel teammate Denny Hamlin for a fuel-mileage victory.

Last week in Atlanta, however, was tinged with controversy and frustration. The XFINITY race was set to be his 362nd and last as a driver, having already scored his 100th – and 101st – series victories at Nashville and Road America. In the Atlanta race’s final moments, Busch’s teammate Daniel Hemric appeared set to score his first career XFINITY victory. But a late-race restart and contact from Busch entering Turn 1 sent Hemric into the wall, handing Busch the win. Teammates also played a role on Sunday, where brother Kurt Busch snatched away the victory after Kurt’s teammate Ross Chastain held up then-leader Kyle with 25 laps remaining. While Kyle finished 2nd that day, he’d still take the pole for Loudon under metric qualifying.

Taking the 37th and final starting spot was James Davison in Rick Ware Racing’s #15 Project 44 Chevrolet. He’d be joined at the back by five other drivers due to pre-race penalties. Four were due to inspection failures: 25th-place Ryan Preece in the #37 Health Choice Power Bowls Chevrolet, 26th-place Corey LaJoie in the #7 Nations Guard Chevrolet, 32nd-place B.J. McLeod in the #78 Motorsport Games Ford, and 36th-place Quin Houff in the #00 Permatex Chevrolet. Bubba Wallace also surrendered 18th after his team had to change a malfunctioning digital dash on his #23 McDonald’s Toyota.

When the race started, Davison soon re-established himself in last place, and was gradually losing touch with the pack. He wouldn’t hold the spot for long. Heavy rains fell immediately following Saturday’s XFINITY race, which continued well into race morning. The rain let up just enough to start the race on time, but there was already a mist in the air at the green flag. By Lap 7, Kyle Busch was still leading teammate Martin Truex, Jr. in the #19 Reser’s Toyota, but each were slipping in the corners as rain intensified. The next time by, first Busch spun, followed immediately by Truex and still another JGR car in Denny Hamlin’s #11 FedEx Toyota. Hamlin avoided the wall, but both Busch and Truex backed into the fence with the rear and left-front corners of their cars.

Martin Truex, Jr. on pit road for repairs
in front of the garage entrance where
Kyle Busch's car was pushed to the hauler.
PHOTO: No Tires Just Gas on YouTube

Under the ensuing rain-soaked caution, Truex first took last from Davison as he made it to pit road for repairs. Kyle Busch dropped the window net and bumped the pace car before he, too, pulled in. The team soon discovered Busch’s damage was too severe to continue, much to the frustration of the #18 crew. Around 15 minutes after NASCAR threw the red flag, with the track now soaked, Busch’s crew pushed the #18 behind the wall and loaded it up on the hauler. At the time, Truex’s car was still in its pit stall. It wasn’t until after the conclusion of a 1 hour, 41-minute delay that Truex finally dropped Busch to last on Lap 10. 

If Truex had climbed no higher, it would have marked the first time since July 25, 1958 that the polesitter finished last with the runner-up next-to-last. On that day at the Monroe County Fairgrounds, Rex White won the pole and finished last after 10 laps with overheating problems, followed 35 laps later by outside-polesitter Shorty Rollins’ burned piston. White didn't even lead a lap in the race as Rollins took the lead at the start, then dropped out while leading his 17th of the first 45 laps. Instead, Truex cleared the “Crash Clock” with just a few seconds remaining stayed on the lead lap, and managed to finish 12th.

With the finish, Busch ended JTG-Daugherty's last-place streak at three in a row, just as he had in 2020, when he ended the team's streak of four in a row. Of the JTG group, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. finished 15th on Sunday with teammate Ryan Preece, Saturday's Modified Series winner, in 22nd.

Taking 36th was last-place starter James Davison, whose clutch failed after 40 laps, sending him behind the wall not long after teammate Cody Ware spun his #51 Nurtec ODT Chevrolet. Quin Houff’s #00 Permatex Chevrolet was bumped by Ryan Newman entering Turn 3, sending him into the outside wall. Houff continued on for around 50 more laps before he dropped out of the race, finishing 35th. Rounding out the Bottom Five were Rick Ware teammates Josh Bilicki in the #52 Rich Mar Florist / Mayhew Tools Ford and Garrett Smithley in the #53 Clubhouse Media Group Chevrolet, 13 and 10 laps down, respectively.

The victory went to a surprising Aric Almirola, who both came into the race as the 2021 LASTCAR Cup Series leader and remains so with three last-place runs this season. This marked Almirola’s third series victory in 374 Cup starts, his first on a non-superspeedway, and punched his ticket into this year’s Playoffs.

*Busch is the first driver to both lead laps in a Cup race at New Hampshire and finish last in the same event.
*Busch is also the first driver to finish last in back-to-back Cup races at New Hampshire.

37) #18-Kyle Busch / 8 laps / crash / led 8 laps
36) #15-James Davison / 40 laps / clutch
35) #00-Quin Houff / 187 laps / crash
34) #52-Josh Bilicki / 280 laps / running
33) #53-Garrett Smithley / 283 laps / running

1st) JTG-Daugherty Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
2nd) Spire Motorsports (3)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Rick Ware Racing (2)
4th) Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, StarCom Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (13)
2nd) Ford (6)
3rd) Toyota (3)


No comments: