Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch earned his 54th career NASCAR Nationwide Series win today, in 249 starts, by bringing the No. 54 Monster Energy program to victory lane at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. It was the team’s third win across five weeks this race season. Taking home the trophy Busch captured his sixth victory and ninth top-five finish in 15 NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) starts at Auto Club Speedway. The win catapulted Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) to nine-straight Nationwide Series wins at this event, dating back to Feb. 2008.
During initial on-track activity Friday through one long practice session, it was evident that Busch had a strong car but one that could develop a tight-handling condition. However, on Saturday morning when the team took to the track for a qualifying run, the 27-year-old Busch paced the field with a fast lap of 178.607mph, earning Busch his third Nationwide Series pole at Fontana, and 28th first-place starting spot of his career.
Upon taking the green flag Saturday afternoon, Busch immediately battled teammate Elliott Sadler who charged to the front, but later had an engine issue that took him out of contention. Busch commented immediately to the team that his black machine was ‘a little snug’ as anticipated. Early in the race, on lap 35 of 150, the JGR Monster Energy team pitted with tire changes and a wedge adjustment to free up their skilled driver’s Camry. A second pit stop offered the chance for further adjustments to the Toyota. Busch explained, ‘the car is good.’
Busch drove amongst the leaders through much of the day, often holding the first-place spot, and often battling between the No. 12 of Sam Hornish Jr. and the No. 3 of Austin Dillon. The final battle came towards the end of the race when Busch had to track down and pass the No. 12 car of Hornish Jr., a tough competitor all weekend. In the end Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing prevailed.
The NASCAR veteran captured the checkered flag and proceeded to victory lane where his sponsor’s Monster Energy employee guests were waiting to celebrate. When interviewed post-race, the excited driver described, “You work hard and you give it all you can. There’s been days on the Cup side where we can lead all the laps and we mess up either on adjustments or I just can’t get enough out of the car that I need, but here today — this is awesome. It’s the home for Monster Energy, so we appreciate their support. Great ‘home game’ for us. Also, TRD (Toyota Racing Development) is right down the road. Of course we appreciate Toyota’s support and Nationwide Insurance — what can I say. It’s fun to come out here and race with these guys. Sam (Hornish Jr.), he’s put on a whole new game this year — these guys better watch out for going after the championship. He’s done a great job. I was comfortable today in my Butler seat and just want to say again, thanks to Mark Cronquist (JGR engine builder) and all the guys at JGR engines.”
Busch continued, “It’s really, really cool — it’s just been fun to be able to work with Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and work with these guys at Joe Gibbs Racing again. They’re known for having great stuff, but yet you still have to be able to wheel it and today, I don’t think we were the best car, but got up on the wheel there at the end and just chased down that 12 (Sam Hornish Jr.) — he was really, really good today. Didn’t want to see him win here in front of our hometown crowd of Monster Energy folks that were in the stands today and of course the Toyota folks that are here as well. We got up on the wheel, like I said and tried to push as hard as I could and run the top side there for a little bit. Ran him down and got there, was able to do a draft move by him and sort of kept running the top to keep the momentum going, but was still trying to search around to find a lap time that was good for us. It seemed like we were back and forth a little bit. Sam could run a good lap, I’d run a good lap. We were battling each other there on the stop watch, not necessarily on the race track, but still felt like it was a great race. Halfway through, two-thirds through us and the 12 (Sam Hornish Jr.) were putting on a good show up front, trading the lead back and forth a little bit, side-by-side, he’d go inside, I’d go inside. It’s pretty neat.”
The seasoned lap leader led the field seven times for 92 laps. Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers finished 7th and 34th respectively. Hornish Jr., Regan Smith, Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Parker Kligerman and Austin Dillon completed the top-five finishers. There were four caution periods for 17 laps of the race along with 17 lead changes across seven drivers.
The No. 54 Monster Energy team remained second in the Owner’s Point standings, jumping to only 10 points from the lead.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series takes a break in the schedule, resuming on April 12th at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth (TX) with the race television broadcast starting at 8:00pm EST on ESPN2. Busch will make his sixth start of the season behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Monster Energy Camry.