Even Busch’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, was glum when speaking about the matter because he knew that they had a car much faster than their finish indicated.
“It was just poor execution all around. We made a lot of mistakes on pit road and when you make back to back mistakes, it’s tough to recover from it,” said Stevens.
“A track like this, everybody knows you’re going to get longer green flag runs. You’re not going to have a lot of cautions to get those laps back. We had a fast car, the best car I’ve been a part of here and just not much to show for it.”
Busch’s day underscores another point that is worth noting: when drivers and teams make mistakes on pit road, they cede the ability to control their own destiny within a race.
Once he was mired back in traffic, Busch was in need of multiple cautions in order to get his laps back and race his way through the field. Unfortunately for him, they really never came, and he ended up with a disappointing result that was more his team’s fault than his own.
Stevens will be the main man tasked with righting Busch’s mental state for next weekend, and the answers he gave on Sunday indicate that he is up for that task over the next few days.
There was a level-headedness in his answer that exemplifies why his calmer nature balances out Busch’s fire so well.
“The Playoffs are all about surviving and advancing,” Stevens said post-race. “We had a car that was capable of competing for the win and we took ourselves out of that. We still have to salvage the best possible finish you can and move on to the next round and we did score a playoff point and we get to take that with us. I’ve had bad days, but I’ve certainly had worse days.”
While Busch didn’t end up with the finish he wanted, Martin Truex Jr. came home with a massive victory to lock himself into the Round of 12. He too was one of the drivers that ran into trouble on pit road, and spent a good chunk of the day battling adversity — just as he did a year ago to win this race, when he came back from a flat tire to win.
It was a poor start to Truex’s race, as he was one of the first driver to be caught speeding on pit road at lap 39. This meant that he spent the rest of Stage 1 battling back towards the front of the field, which to his credit he did, finishing 10th by the time the first green-checkered flag of the day came out.
Things appeared as if they would be fine for Truex and company, but his crew only got three lug nuts tight on the right rear tire in the pit stop between stages. Truex had to come back around to get the lug nuts tightened and started Stage 2 from the tail end of the lead lap cars.
From that point on, Truex was flawless, and drove back through the field again. The No. 78 led 77 of the last 78 laps to win the race and cement his status as the best intermediate-track driver in the series at the moment.
Truex spoke for a long while about how last year’s experience with the flat tire probably helped him this time around.
“You never know how those things are going to go,” he said. “I was like, ‘Here we go. It’s like last year all over again.’ Last year here, we had the tire unravel and lost a lap. I thought to myself, ‘At least this year we stayed on the lead lap with our troubles.’ We’d been in this position before.”
“The good thing is, if you’re going to have trouble, you want it to be at a place like Chicago, where the track is so wide, there’s so many options. I felt like I could run almost anywhere on the race track today and make almost identical lap times. I could just go where the guys weren’t and get by them.”
For his troubles, Truex is now safely in the last 12, thanks to a car that had blistering pace and a mindset that allowed him to not lose his head when things went wrong.
It is of course important to have a fast car every week in order to make a championship run, but in these playoffs, the value of a good mindset cannot be underrated.
And that will likely be the difference for at least one driver between just making it to Homestead and winning the Monster Energy Cup.
About the Writer
James Pike is a multi-faceted reporter for Race Chaser Online and a former analyst on the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Pike is a graduate of the Motorsports Management program at Belmont Abbey College and is originally from Winston-Salem, N.C., having grown up in the shadow of the legendary Bowman-Gray Stadium.
He is the lead correspondent for Race Chaser Online’s coverage of Australian Supercars, and he is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in International Sports Journalism overseas at St. Mary’s University in Twickenham, England.
Pike’s past coverage with Race Chaser Onliine includes work with multiple regional touring series in the Carolinas, including the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and the CARS Tour.
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