FORT WORTH, Tex.— The record book will say that Kyle Busch won the NRA 500 on Saturday night. If truth be known, Busch started the process on Friday afternoon and applied the coup de grace with 20 laps left on Saturday evening.
Yes, Busch capped a perfect weekend when he took the checkered flag .508 seconds ahead of runner-up Martin Truex Jr. But Busch’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Texas, his second of the season and the 26th of his career started with a pole-winning run on Friday that afforded him the luxury of picking the No. 1 pit stall.
At the race’s crucial juncture, under the final caution for debris in Turn 4, Busch used a lightning-fast pit stop and the pit stall position closest to the exit from pit road to grab the top spot for the final restart. Truex restarted on the outside and struggled to maintain contact with the race winner.
Though he gained ground in the closing laps, Truex ran out of time.
Carl Edwards was third, followed by Greg Biffle and Joey Logano, who barely made the starting grid and rallied for an unexpected top five.
Busch, who won Friday night’s Nationwide Series race after claiming the pole, finished off the seventh Nationwide/ Cup sweep of his career, a NASCAR record--and all because of the final pit stop.
"It feels good--oh, man," Busch exulted after climbing from his car. "(Crew chief) Dave Rogers and these guys gave me a great piece today. We ran up front all day long. But if it wasn’t for my pit crew, the most awesome group ever-- since 2008 we’ve been together, haven’t had any changeover--man, those guys are just awesome.
"They pulled out one heck of a stop right there at the end to put us up front, to give us that lead, and we were able to bring it home."
Busch led a race-high 171 laps to 142 for Truex, who was beyond disappointed with the second-place result.
"We started near the front and had a decent car at the beginning, but not great," Truex said. "We worked on it all night and got it to where it was the best car out there. The last caution came out, and we got beat out of the pits, and that was the race. It was pretty frustrating to run second again. I feel like we've been in this boat and this position a bunch of times.
"Nothing about it is much fun. At the same time, it was a good run for us. We had a great weekend. Had a good race car all weekend long, and we learned a lot about things we can use in the future. Just running second sucks, especially when you're that fast. So (I’m) a little bit frustrated right now."
Nor would Truex use Busch’s No. 1 pit stall as an excuse.
"We came in with the lead," Truex said. "I still feel like we should have been able to beat him out. I don't know what happened there, but it wasn't even close. I was three (carlengths) behind, so it wasn't all pit position, it was other things on our end…
"It's so hard to get in position to win these races. It is so hard to make your car good enough to beat Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch and all these guys; and we had that tonight. We've got to get better at taking advantage of that. That's where we're missing, and that's what we need to work on. So that's why I'm upset. Second is a great accomplishment, but it's not what we're here for."
Truex streaked away from the field after a restart on lap 229 and opened a lead of more than 2.5 seconds over Busch. That advantage grew to more than four seconds before a worn-out right front tire threatened Truex’s winning chances.
As Truex brought his No. 56 Toyota to pit road under green on Lap 280, however, David Gilliland turned Marcos Ambrose’s Ford on the backstretch to cause the sixth caution of the night. As the yellow flew, Jeff Burton ran into the back of Mark Martin’s Toyota and spun into the inside wall.
Since both Truex and Busch were already on pit road when NASCAR called the caution, they remained in the lead for a restart on Lap 291. Truex opened a lead once again before a Lap 314 caution for debris in Turn 4 slowed the field again and allowed the lead-lap cars to pit for four tires.
Busch won the race off pit road, and that proved decisive, as he sped away after a restart on Lap 319 and made a bridesmaid of Truex for the sixth time since his only Sprint Cup victory on June 4, 2007.
Trouble started early for the Penske Racing Fords of reigning series champion Brad Keselowski and Logano. NASCAR confiscated the rear-end housings of the cars, forcing the teams to make a change before the race.
Keselowski made it to the grid in time for the start, but Logano’s car was late presenting itself on pit road and had to start from the rear.
"It is just something that is not in the spirit of the rules," NASCAR vice president of competition told the Sporting News in explaining the violation. If penalties are forthcoming, they will be announced next week.
Nevertheless, both drivers rallied from a lap to down to post top-10 finishes. Keselowski came home ninth and remained second in the Cup standings, nine points behind Jimmie Johnson, who ran sixth on Saturday.
Martin Truex Jr. is sick and tired of finishing second
Of the six second-place finishes Martin Truex Jr. has posted since winning his first and only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race back in 2007, the runner-up result Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway was the toughest to take.
In reality, though, Truex’s failure to win in a superior car was no big thing. It was a lot of small things — miniscule things — that combined to make Kyle Busch a winner and Truex the epitome of frustration.
It’s not every night that Truex and his Michael Waltrip Racing team can go toe-to-toe with Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing and know they have a superior car. But that was the case Saturday night, when Truex led 142 laps and, on one occasion, opened a lead of more than four seconds over Busch in second place.
If the race had been decided on the race track, Truex might have won. Unfortunately for Truex and his No. 56 Toyota team, what happened on pit road tipped the scales in Busch’s favor.
On Lap 314 of 334, NASCAR called a caution for debris in Turn 4. The lead-lap cars came to pit road for new tires, essential for a final green-flag run that, as it turned out, lasted 16 laps. Busch’s veteran pit crew pulled off a stop in 11.7 seconds, according to crew chief Dave Rogers.
From pit stall No. 1, the closest to the exit from pit road, Busch beat Truex to the timing line that sets the order for the restart—beat him badly. Taking the green flag from the outside lane, Truex could barely hold the second position, much less challenge Busch for the lead.
That was the race, pure and simple. Busch pulled away to a comfortable lead. Though Truex whittled away at the advantage over the closing laps, he ran out of time and finished a half-second behind.
"Second sucks," Truex said after the race. "It just hurts when you give them away."
In fact, Truex gave away nothing. Rather, Busch took the win away from him, and he did so through the little things that define the difference between success and failure.
The final pit stop was the fulcrum, but it was simply a microcosm of what was happening throughout the race. In eight pit stops combined—under yellow and green—Busch spent 279.927 seconds on pit road. Truex, on the other hand, needed 292.820 seconds to negotiate pit road, nearly 13 seconds more.
Translated to an average, Truex used 1.612 seconds more per pit stop than Busch did. That’s an enormous difference through the course of a race.
Bear in mind that those numbers relate to total time on pit road, from entrance to exit. Busch has an uncanny knack for getting to his pit stall in the shortest possible time. He’s had the same over-the-wall crew since 2008, and "his guys" know each other’s every move.
The bottom line is that Truex had the speed to win the race, but he didn’t have all of the other essential components. If his team is serious about mounting a championship challenge, the areas where improvement is needed are obvious.
Truex’s last win came at Dover on June 4, 2007 in a race delayed by rain till Monday. Truex smoked the field that day, winning by 7.355 seconds, but the celebration was muted, because NASCAR icon Bill France Jr. had passed away during the event.
If and when Truex wins another Cup race, he would have the second longest stretch between victories. As of Saturday night, his drought has reached 210 races, the third longest current streak behind Bobby Labonte and Joe Nemechek for drivers who have won at least one race.
If and when Truex wins again, may the celebration be loud and raucous. For a victory will mean that Truex and his MWR team have taken the next necessary steps in what has already been a methodical rise to prominence.
When the taste of second places turns bitter, as it did for Truex on Saturday, there’s only one remedy. The frustration of Texas may well prove the catalyst that will propel Truex to Victory Lane before season’s end.