Race Recap for the Bojangles’ Southern 500
Date: Sept. 3, 2017
Event: Bojangles’ Southern 500 (Round 25 of 36)
Series: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Location: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway (1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval)
Format: 367 laps, broken into three stages (100 laps/100 laps/167 laps)
Start/Finish: 3rd/2nd (Running, completed 367 of 367 laps)
Point Standing: 2nd with 893 points, 107 out of first
Race Winner: Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)
Stage 1 Winner: Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing (Toyota)
Stage 2 Winner: Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing (Toyota)
Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-100):
● Kyle Busch started third, finished ninth.
● The Southern 500 started quite well for the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota team with Busch quietly logging laps in third place. The first caution was displayed on lap 15, and Busch noted that the car was a little loose at just about every point on the track. Anticipating that the track would change as the race continued, the team elected to only change tires and add fuel. Quick pit work placed the No. 18 Toyota in the lead for the restart on lap 21.
● Busch lost the lead soon after green-flag racing resumed and eventually settled into a comfortable pace in fourth place. When the second caution was displayed on lap 41, Busch noted that the track hadn’t changed as much as anticipated and the car was still handling on the free side. Crew chief Adam Stevens called for a wedge adjustment, four tires and fuel on the stop.
● During the next several laps the car’s handling deteriorated, with Busch dropping outside the top-five and reporting that the car was so loose it was a challenge to keep from wrecking. Busch was able to keep the car straight and finished the segment in ninth place.
Stage 2 Recap (Laps 101-200):
● Busch started sixth, finished fifth.
● The team made wholesale changes to the No. 18 Toyota during the stop, going back on the previous wedge adjustment, making air pressure adjustments, changing four tires and adding fuel. Once again, quick pit work helped Busch gain positions, placing him in sixth place for the restart.
● While the adjustments improved the state of the handling situation from the end of Stage 1, it still lacked the stability Busch needed to be aggressive.
● The 2015 NASCAR Cup Series champion was in the top-five on lap 185 when he noted that he was starting to lose the handling and that the car was once again trending to the free side. Despite the issue, he was able to close out Stage 2 in fifth place.
Stage 3 Recap (Laps 201-367):
● Busch started second, finished second.
● After a series of adjustments, quick pit work placed Busch on the front row in second place for the restart. During the next several laps the M&M’S Caramel Toyota driver quietly logged laps in the runner-up spot, never making a move for the front but definitely staying within striking distance.
● It was on lap 235 that the race leader started to distance himself from Busch, who noted that the car was again starting to handle on the loose side.
● In an effort to contend for the win, the team elected to exercise a little strategy in the closing laps of the race. Green-flag pit stops started unfolding with about 70 laps to go, which meant teams would need to make another stop to make it to the end of the race on fuel. As a means to make it to the end of the race on only one more stop, the team had Busch stay out longer on old tires. Busch was had just inherited the lead when he made his stop for service on lap 314. He was in 15th place once the running order settled, but with fresher tires he was able to pick up positions at a rapid pace, making his way back into the top-10 within a handful of laps.
● Busch was able to race to third place with less than 20 laps to go, but ahead of him was his Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammate Denny Hamlin, utilizing the same pit strategy. Race leader Martin Truex Jr. made contact with the outside wall and started falling back, handing the lead to Hamlin and second to Busch, and both maintained their respective positions to the checkered flag.
● Busch finished ninth in Stage 1 to score two bonus points and fifth in Stage 2 for an additional six bonus points.
● Busch led three times for a total of six laps.
● Busch’s second-place finish is his third top-five and eighth top-10 finish in 13 career starts at Darlington.
Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Caramel Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
“It was definitely a good night for our M&M’S Caramel Toyota. Adam Stevens (crew chief) and the guys did a great job of making adjustments, and the pit crew was on it tonight. I certainly wish that we could have kept pace with the 11 (Denny Hamlin) a little bit longer. We were right there with him for a long time – longer than we had all night long in that final stint – but he got through a couple lap cars a little quicker than I did and then they got side by side and then I got sucked into the fence and after that it just wasn't the same. So we just had to try to bide our time and just come home in one piece or nobody was coming behind us, so we just had to – I think we had a seven second gap or something behind us, so we had a long ways to give up so we just did that and the 11 was just the car of the day and class of the field, so congratulations to those guys. We saw it here in practice on Friday and I was hoping we could hang with them there a little bit more, but I think I made too many adjustments to our car and got us out of place there for the last two stints.”
Next Up: The next event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the Federated Auto Parts 400 on Saturday, Sept. 9 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. The race starts at 7:30 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by NBCSN.