FONTANA, Calif. — Report by Race Chaser Online Correspondent Ethan Butler — Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR photo —
In the closing laps of the Auto Club 400, reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch was on track for a second place finish and poised to put Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race behind him; a race which saw Busch blow a left front tire on the last lap, handing the race win to Austin Dillon.
Instead, just 24 hours after Busch’s XFINITY misfortune, bad luck struck the driver of the No. 18 M&Ms 75th Anniversary Toyota yet again.
With two laps remaining, Busch was a shade under three seconds behind race leader and race-long dominator Kevin Harvick, and several drivers — including Busch — were skating on thin ice as far as their worn tires were concerned.
Suddenly, the heartbreak for Busch broke loose heading for turn three. The right front tire on Busch’s No. 18 M&M’s Toyota shredded, ending any hopes of a rebounding result.
Busch rode the wall all the way through turn four, questionably staying on the racetrack instead of ducking to pit road. This would bring out the race’s final caution with two laps to go, setting up a green-white-checkered “overtime” finish in which Jimmie Johnson bested Harvick for his 77th career Sprint Cup win (seventh all-time).
Busch would nurse the car to a 25th place finish, ending a string of eight-consecutive top five finishes (dating back to Martinsville in October of 2015) and marking his first finish of sixth or worse this season.
He also went on a tirade on Twitter Sunday night, addressing the final laps and more as fans shot questions and frustrated comments in his direction.
“For all those blaming me (for) bringing out the last caution, the yellow was already out (before) I could get to pit road and that’s why I stayed out,” Busch explained. “Pit road was closed and that’s a penalty. … The end (of the race and saving equipment) today was me letting it play out. We were (second) best at the end. Just didn’t make it.”
“Some (people) say I care too much. Nonsense. (I) gotta give it everything I have each race for (my) fans, crew (and) sponsors!”
These words come just one day after he shirked his mandatory post-race media duties from finishing second in the XFINITY car. That move has Busch in potential hot water with NASCAR, who said Saturday night that they are reviewing the Las Vegas native’s conduct after that event, and Busch offered no question as to whether or not he expected any shots from the sanctioning body.
“By not doing interview, I’ll (be) getting a discount on my fine on Tuesday,” Busch remarked to a fan who asked him why he didn’t stick around for an interview after the Cup race.
Any fines or penalties are traditionally announced on Tuesday or Wednesday, with a possible fine of between $10,000 and $50,000 and/or probation for comments that “disparage the sport and/or NASCAR’s leadership” under the sport’s new Code of Conduct guidelines, which were updated in February.
After five races and going into the Easter off-week, Busch sits fifth in the championship standings and sixth on the provisional Chase Grid.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to action on April 3 at Martinsville Speedway.
About the Writer
Ethan “Speedy” Butler is Race Chaser Online’s Plains Region correspondent, residing in West Burlington, Iowa — just down from Knoxville Raceway, the ‘Sprint Car Capital of the World’ — and aiding in the site’s sprint car databanks from ‘The Heartland of America’.
Butler has always had a passion for auto racing, going back to his younger years “playing with toy cars and trying to figure out how to get them to go faster”. He is both an avid dirt track and NASCAR fan, who spends his time away from home at one of the many local dirt tracks in the area, out on the lake fishing, or in the shop shaping up his next woodworking project. In 2015, he spent time as a marketing intern and flagman at 34 Raceway, one of the charter tracks for the FVP National Sprint League founded by Tod Quiring.
Butler is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in marketing at the University of Northern Iowa.
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