Monday, August 7, 2023

CUP: Battle with Blaney results in fourth Michigan last-place finish for Kyle Busch

PHOTO: @KyleBusch

by Brock Beard Editor-in-Chief

Kyle Busch picked up the 12th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at the Michigan International Speedway when his #8 Kwik Trip / Kwik Star Chevrolet crashed after 14 of 200 laps.

The finish, which came in Busch’s 665th series start, was his second of the season and first since Loudon, three races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 33rd for the #8, the 655th from a crash, and the 846th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 52nd for the #8, the 1,346th from a crash, and the 1,906th for Chevrolet.

Nearing his next Playoff appearance and his first with Richard Childress Racing, Busch finished 21st the next week at Pocono, then welcomed new sponsorship from X World Wallet with a strong 3rd-place finish after qualifying outside-pole. The Michigan race would see him welcome another new partner in Kwik Trip and Kwik Star, a chain of Wisconsin-based convenience stores. In 34 previous Cup races at the Michigan oval, Busch has led 279 laps, but scored just one win, which came in 2011. He’s also finished last at the track three times, most recently in 2016.

Busch began the weekend running 10th-fastest in practice, then after running 4th in Qualifying Round 1A claimed 8th in Round 2, clocking in a lap of 191.898mph (37.520 seconds). 

Securing the 37th and final spot in Sunday’s field was Josh Bilicki, who with the Live Fast Motorsports team visited sponsor Zeigler Auto Group’s dealership in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Bilicki would be joined by four drivers with pre-race penalties, each for unapproved adjustments. In addition to 30th-place Austin Hill, whose #62 Bennett Transportation / Beard Chevrolet was the only “open” car in the field were 36th-place J.J. Yeley in the #15 Grill Blazers Ford, 31st-place Corey LaJoie after his #7 Garner Trucking Chevrolet spun in Turn 4 in practice, and Josh Berry, who replaced a suspended Noah Gragson in the #42 Sunseeker Resort Chevrolet just before practice and qualified 35th.

Berry (far right) lays back at the start in the #42
PHOTO: @stephen_stumpf

Coming to the green flag, Bilicki was up to 34th on the inside just ahead of LaJoie, who Bilicki’s spotter was laying back to get a run at him for the start. Behind those two were 36th-place Austin Hill, who crossed the line 2.68 seconds back of the leader and another three-tenths ahead of new last-place driver Josh Berry, 2.922 behind. Heading into Turn 1, Bilicki was indeed trapped in the middle lane, then was cleared to his inside as he fell to 37th by the entrance of Turn 3. At the line, he now trailed the leader by 3.757 seconds, but just 0.241 behind new 36th-place runner Cole Custer in the #51 Biohaven / Jacob Companies Ford. Bilicki then dropped Custer to last on Lap 4, but their gap remained at two-tenths of a second. By Lap 8, Custer fell 10.874 seconds back of the lead, and now lost another tenth to Bilicki, who was 0.350 ahead. The gap then jumped to 0.538 on Lap 10, but three circuits later, Custer turned his best lap of the race so far at a 38.955, cutting two-tenths off the gap. Custer was still reeling in Bilicki when the first caution fell on Lap 15.

Heading through Turns 1 and 2, Kyle Busch was locked in a tight side-by-side battle with Ryan Blaney for the 11th position. Running to the inside of Blaney’s #12 Menards / Kanuf Ford, Busch appeared to slide up into Blaney and break loose, sending Busch spinning up the track and hitting the wall with the right-rear and right-front. The caution fell as Busch took over last on Lap 15, though he still managed to drive back to pit road. Barely a lap later, someone on the radio said, “Just take it to the garage. Fuck it,” and instructed the crew to not change to fresh tires. The team replaced the old tires and Busch drove behind the wall, out under NASCAR’s “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” Busch’s car was still too damaged to make the right-hand turn to the garage area, and the driver climbed out with his car stranded behind Harrison Burton’s hauler. The team discussed the accident with team owner Richard Childress, saying that Blaney was running too tight to Busch’s door “like he was pissed at us.” Busch said in his own interview that it appeared he lost control on his own. NASCAR declared Busch out on Lap 22.

Kyle Busch unable to make the right turn in the garage due to damage.

Busch’s wreck was not unique as several other contenders found trouble through the first half of the race. On Lap 35, Chase Elliott blew a right-rear tire coming off Turn 2 and slammed the wall with the rear, then the nose of his #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet. Taking 35th was William Byron, who on Lap 45, the final lap of Stage 1, bounced his #24 Liberty University Chevrolet off the wall exiting Turn 4. Several laps of repairs to both the right-front and right-rear suspension, Byron’s “Crash Clock” expired, and on Lap 54 his crew had to push the car half the length of pit road back to the garage. Josh Berry’s substitution didn’t last long, either, as he broke loose in Turn 3 on Lap 51, hitting the wall and stranding himself in the wet infield grass.

After a gathering mist turned to rain, stopping the action on Lap 74, the race concluded on Monday. There, Alex Bowman completed the Bottom Five after his #48 Ally x Detroit Pistons Chevrolet wrecked on the backstretch, then was towed back to his pit stall. After leading 19 laps of the event, Bowman soon fell out with steering issues.

*This was Busch’s fourth last-place finish in a Cup race at Michigan.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #8 in a Cup Series race at Michigan since June 14, 1998, when Morgan Shepherd’s ride in the Stavola Brothers’ #8 Circuit City Chevrolet ended with an electrical issue due to a faulty ignition after 66 laps of the Miller Lite 400.

37) #8-Kyle Busch / 14 laps / crash
36) #9-Chase Elliott / 34 laps / crash
35) #24-William Byron / 46 laps / dvp
34) #42-Josh Berry / 50 laps / crash
33) #48-Alex Bowman / 134 laps / steering / led 19 laps

1st) Spire Motorsports (4)
2nd) Live Fast Motorsports, Penske Racing, Richard Childress Racing (3)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Legacy Motor Club, Rick Ware Racing (2)
4th) Hendrick Motorsports, Kaulig Racing, Trackhouse Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (15)
2nd) Ford (5)
3rd) Toyota (2)


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