Kyle Busch proved a time-test auto racing axiom Sunday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway: The fastest car doesn’t always win.
Busch led a race-high 274 of 500 laps in the STP 500 at Martinsville, trading the lead five times in the final 100 laps with Brad Keselowski before Keselowski made what proved to be the race-winning pass with 43 laps to go.
Up to that point, Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota had been the class of the field. But the 2015 Monster Energy Cup Series champion said his final set of Goodyear tires weren’t good enough to keep him out front.
“All we did was put four tires on it and it went to junk,” said Busch, who nonetheless scored his best finish of the year by coming home second.
Still, finishing second meant that contrary to the t-shirts he’s been selling for charity, everything wasn’t great for Busch at Martinsville.
“I hate it for our guys,” said Busch. “They’ve deserved all year much better finishes than what we’ve been able to produce and here’s another one today. Just a frustrating season so far but we give it everything we got.”
Then there was the little contretemps between Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the end of the second stage of the race.
After leading the prior 108 laps, Busch was out front and all set to win Stage 2 of the race, which ended at Lap 260. But coming out of Turn 4 on Lap 259, Stenhouse bumped Busch’s car out of the way so he could un-lap himself.
As Busch’s car drifted up the track, Chase Elliott dove underneath him to pick up a stage win.
“I actually was rolling into Turn 3 and was kind of going higher out of my way in order to let the 17 (Stenhouse) back by and give him the lap,” said Busch. “That was my intent, and then he just drove through me.
“It cost me my spot to the 24 (Elliott), so I was hoping that I could run off the corner side by side with the 17 and keep the 24 at bay and just keep my nose in front of his and be able to score the segment, and I was trying to be a nice guy, but nice guys don’t finish first.”
In Busch’s case, he finished second and he was none too happy about it.
“We led a lot of laps,” Busch said. “We really had no contention there from a lot of people, just passed halfway the rest of the way to the end, and then you put a set of tires on and you lose three-tenths. That was pretty shameful, but we come home P2. So that’s all we had.”