NASCAR: Busch, Hamlin struggle at Indianapolis
INDIANAPOLIS ó Kyle Busch kept his temper.
He lost his spot in the chase, at least for now.
The volatile NASCAR star continued his midsummer swoon at Indianapolis on Sunday when a blown tire sent him to a disappointing 38th-place finish and knocked him outside the top 12 with just six races remaining before the chase for the championship.
“We’re trying to fight for a spot in the chase and this is obviously frustrating,” Busch said. “I don’t know if it was the car or the tire or what.”
Lately it’s always been something for Busch, who began the day clinging to 10th in the standings but couldn’t find any rhythm in his No. 18 Toyota. He started 20th and was running in the middle of the pack before getting stuck behind David Gilliland’s lapped car.
Busch struggled to make the pass, but his right front tire didn’t give him a chance, exploding on lap 57 and sending him into the wall.
He returned to the track 48 laps later, but by then his tenuous spot in the top 12 was long gone. He heads to next week’s race at Pocono 14th in the standings, 82 points out of the chase.
Yet rather than sulk as he did at Chicago two weeks ago ó when he angrily told crew chief Steve Addington his car was “junk” ó Busch sat patiently in the garage while his crew patched up his mangled ride.
The 24-year-old even praised his pit crew for helping him pick up a few spots before the accident, perhaps a sign that he’s trying to keep a pledge he made on Friday to be a more positive influence.
“I thought he handled it pretty well with the guys in general,” said JGR president J.D. Gibbs. “I think he realizes it’s discouraging not just to him, but to everybody.”
Busch’s misery had plenty of company during a mostly frustrating day for one of NASCAR’s top teams.
Teammate Denny Hamlin spent 16 laps in the garage after his drive shaft broke, a sequence that led to him coasting down pit road with the shifter hanging from his right hand. He returned to finish 34th and slipped one spot to sixth in the points race.
Watching Busch’s crew roll his bruised car into the hauler, Gibbs admitted his team isn’t exactly performing at the typical JGR-level heading into the most crucial six-week stretch of the year.
“We might not have the best stuff right now, but if we run to our capability we’re going to run really, really well,” Gibbs said. “The discouraging part is we’re not running real well, we’re not getting the finishes we should be getting.”
Busch will need to get them quickly if he wants to qualify for NASCAR’s playoffs for the fourth straight season. He dominated the race to the chase last year, winning eight times during the regular season before struggling during the 10-race chase.
That consistency has been lacking this season. While Busch has three wins, he also has 10 finishes of 22nd or worse. Gibbs hoped the Brickyard would be the start of the turnaround.
“We had a great plan to get to the chase full-bore and running, now we just want to make sure we do that,” he said. “Last year some stuff went our way and we had some good fortune, at the same time we were consistent.”
Hamlin has been steadier but hasn’t won in 50 races. Winning can wait if it has to. For now, the chase is what matters.
“You just can never lock yourself into the Chase, it is always something really,” Hamlin said. “It was good to lose only one spot.”
Busch wasn’t so lucky, though his boss isn’t exactly ready to panic.
“I think we’ve got a group of guys that will dig and rally,” Gibbs said. “That’s what you’re hoping for.”
The bright spot for JGR was rookie Joey Logano, but even his 12th-place performance was tinged with disappointment.
The 19-year-old started at the back of the field after crew chief Greg Zipadelli switched engines overnight.
Patiently picking his way through the field, Logano climbed to 12th in his first start at the famed 2.5-mile oval. Still, he couldn’t help but think about what he could have done if he’d been able to keep his original 18th starting spot.
“I thought we had a lot better car than where we finished,” Logano said. “It is what it is. We’ll come back next time.”