Not many people could contend with the Team Penske cars Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, but Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch certainly gave them a run for their money.
While Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano led all but 31 laps, Busch’s No. 18 Toyota came on late in the going, posing the biggest challenge to upset the Penske dominance.
Starting 18th, Busch worked his way through the field, but was relegated to an also-ran for much of the race as the Team Penske cars set a blistering pace. However, Busch and his Dave Rogers-led team caught a break on Lap 216.
Three laps earlier, Busch brought his No. 18 Toyota to pit road for a scheduled stop under green. As the car hit pit road, Aric Almirola got into the outside wall in Turn 1 to bring out the caution. The team completed the stop and sent Busch off pit road ahead of the pace car.
When the leaders came in for service under the caution, Busch was able to stay on track and inherit the lead, the first non-Penske car to do so all night.
Busch was able to pull away on the restart, leading the next 31 laps, but in the end it was not enough to hold off the hard-charging Keselowski. Losing the lead with 20 laps to go, Busch held on to finish the night in second.
"We started 18th and worked our way forward every run of the race there and got to about third and kind of stalled out," Busch said. "Third, fourth. I felt like we were better than the 31 (Ryan Newman) but nowhere near as good as the 2 (Keselowski) or the 22 (Logano). Those guys were really stout.
"You know, that caution came out right at the perfect moment for us," he added. "We were able to beat the 2 to the exit line and keep our spot on the lead lap, and come back around, and essentially inherit the lead and then we were able to drive away after that last pit stop and build up a good lead, but as I was doing it I was trying to stretch it before I got to traffic, and once I got to traffic, man, I just got too loose."
The runner-up finish was the first top-10 finish for the No. 18 team in five races, dating back to the Coca-Cola 600 in May.
"Definitely proud of (crew chief) Dave Rogers, the brain power and everybody that worked on this thing here this weekend to give us a good M&M’s Toyota Camry to finish second with because we were out to lunch (on Friday)," Busch said.
"You know, really good, and we haven’t been great this year, so this is certainly a step in the right direction," he added. "Feels nice to have a solid run, lead some laps, and although we faded at the end, we gave it a valiant effort. So hopefully we can take some of this and move forward with it."