M&M’s Driver Comes Home 17th after Late-Race Contact Thwarts Top-Five Finish
Date: June 24, 2012
Event: Toyota/Save Mart 350k (Round 16 of 36)
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
Location: Road Course at Sonoma, Calif. (10-turn, 1.99-mile layout)
Start/Finish: 7th/17th (Running, completed 112 of 112 laps)
Point Standing: 12th (459 points, 137 out of first)
Winner: Clint Bowyer of Michael Waltrip Racing (Toyota) in a green-white-checkered finish.
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Late in the running of the Toyota/Save Mart 350k on Sunday, it looked as if Kyle Busch was poised for a top-five finish.
But when the first caution of the day flew on lap 83 of the 110-lap scheduled distance and bunched the field, Busch became a victim of right-front damage when teammates Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin made contact, and also collected Busch, heading into the final hairpin turn on lap 93. Busch could only limp his car home over the final 19 laps due to the damage, finishing a disappointing 17th at the 1.99-mile road course at Sonoma, Calif.
“We were so patient for most of the race, so were all disappointed with the finish,” said Busch, who has one Sprint Cup win at Sonoma, which came in June 2008. “I don’t know what happened behind me coming into the hairpin, but the 11 (Denny Hamlin) ended up getting into my right front and we had a lot of damage. You can’t come in and fix it since you’ll lose too much time. All we could do is try to bring our M&M’s Camry home with the best finish we could. We were a top-four or five car, so it’s tough to take, for sure.”
Busch, the driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), started seventh and quickly snuck into the top-five by lap 17. In a race that saw the first 82 laps run caution-free, Busch sat within the top-five for a majority of the entire green-flag run to start the race. Working off a two-stop strategy, Busch had pitted for the second, and what he had hoped to be, final time on lap 71. But when the caution flew on lap 83, Busch and crew chief Dave Rogers had a choice to make as Busch sat in fourth place. Does Busch return to pit road and take fresh tires or stay out for track position? Busch and Rogers eventually elected to stay out, along with the top-eight in the running order.
But just 10 laps after the ensuing restart, Busch’s teammates, Logano and Hamlin, battled for position heading through the hairpin on lap 93. Logano couldn’t slow quickly enough, as he wheel-hopped into the left rear of Hamlin and forced him to make contact with the right front of Busch’s M&M’s Camry.
The damage sent Hamlin to the garage and Busch tumbling down the running order as he did his best to hold on to a damaged racecar. Eventually, he dropped to 18th. But a late-race caution that set up a two-lap, green-white-checkered shootout enabled Busch to pit for fresh tires on lap 108 of what turned out to be a 112-lap race, as Las Vegas native Busch gained one more spot during the final run to the finish.
Busch’s JGR companions – Logano, driver of the No. 20 Toyota Camry, and Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry – finished 10th and 35th, respectively.
Clint Bowyer won the Toyota/Save Mart 350k to score his sixth career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his first at Sonoma.
Tony Stewart finished .829 of a second behind Bowyer in the runner-up spot, while Kurt Busch, Brian Vickers and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-five. Jeff Gordon, Greg Biffle, Marcos Ambrose, A.J. Allmendinger and Logano comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were two caution periods for a total of seven laps, with eight drivers failing to finish the 112-lap race, which was extended two laps by a green-white-checkered finish.
With round 16 of 36 complete, Hamlin leads the JGR trio in the championship point standings. He dropped three spots to eighth with 523 points, 73 behind series leader Matt Kenseth. Busch maintained 12th with 459 points, 137 out of first. Logano remained 15th with 441 points, 155 away from the top spot.
The next event on the Sprint Cup schedule is the Quaker State 400 Saturday, June 30 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by TNT beginning with its pre-race show at 6:30 p.m.