CONCORD, N.C. -- Kyle Busch's night was shaping up to be a storybook rally from a unique form of adversity that he never could have imagined happening at the start of the night. In the end, a more familiar pitfall derailed his long-suffering quest for his first Coca-Cola 600 victory.
Busch, a 12-time winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway in other NASCAR national series, fell to 0-for-19 in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition at the 1.5-mile track, retiring with engine failure past the halfway point. With very little warning, the Toyota Racing Development powerplant sputtered, then expired as he coasted to a stop, resigned to a 38th-place finish.
"Dropped a valve," Busch matter-of-factly radioed to his crew. "Blow it up. Goodbye. Good night."
The finality was a harsh bit of heartbreak for the Joe Gibbs Racing team, which made an extraordinary effort to patch the No. 18 Toyota after one of the oddest race stoppages since Juan Pablo Montoya collided with a jet dryer in the 2012 Daytona 500.
A guide cable suspended high above the frontstretch broke in the 122ndlap, dropping a tangle of nylon rope onto the racing surface. Busch, running in the lead, was the first to hit it, and the cable ripped into the right-front fender, peeling back sheet metal as the caution flag flew.
"I didn't see anything. I just heard a big thunk on the right-front tire," Busch said. "I thought the right-front tire blew out; that's how hard it felt and what it felt like. It did have an effect of slowing my car down like 'whoa.' That's weird. I don't know that anyone's ever seen that, but maybe now we can get rid of that thing."
Camera line failure aside, Busch's chances at victory remained intact thanks to quick work by his crew. NASCAR officials red-flagged the race for initial cleanup, then allowed the field to cycle around for a 15-minute stoppage to make any repairs that the cable might have caused.
The team worked magic with the speed-resistant body tape, fixing the fender, the crush panels and a bowed hood, taking special care to seal off the bodywork to keep fumes from seeping into the driver compartment. By the end of the stoppage, JGR crewmembers were exchanging high-fives to cheer their handiwork.
"The guys did a remarkable job," said Dave Rogers, Busch's crew chief. "Hats off to NASCAR for rolling us around under caution, assessing what happened, looking at the footage and then letting us come in and work on our race cars. Just a great job on everyone's behalf to make the best of a bad situation. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it has nothing to do with why we're talking now. We had a mechanical failure that took us out of the race, but we'll bounce back."
Said Busch: "I thought we were about a fourth- or fifth-place car tonight and we'd been running first, second, third much of the evening. Just catastrophic engine failure -- seems to be that time of year again. I hate it for all my guys. They worked all too hard, and they always do. Dave Rogers and these guys poured their hearts and souls into this deal and it's just so frustrating to see it end on a short note like this and not get the finish that we needed."
Busch led a total of 64 laps, staying out front before and after striking the broken cable, but was saddled with his fourth lackluster finish in the past five races. Aside from a sixth-place run after dominating at Darlington Raceway, Busch has a 24th at Richmond and three other finishes of 37th or worse that have pushed him from a high-watermark of second in the Sprint Cup points after his victory at Texas Motor Speedway to falling three spots Sunday to 11th place -- just outside of the top-10 cut for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup postseason.
"What do you do? You've just got to suffer through it," Busch said. "It's a shame because these guys have to suffer through it. We feel like we're one of the best teams out here and yet we can barely salvage being in the top 10 in points because of stupid things like this happening -- flat tires, everything else -- that keep us out of Victory Lane."
Busch's hopes for recovery hinge on the next two races, at Dover and Pocono. As Busch alluded to, the start of June was not kind to the No. 18's reliability last year as two consecutive engine failures dealt a serious blow to his postseason hopes. Busch ultimately missed the Chase, missing out on one of two Wild-Card berths.
To avoid a similar slip in morale and playoff footing, Rogers said it's a matter of pushing through and moving on.
"Keep my head up high and keep working hard," Rogers said. "There's people out there who'd love to be in our position. We know we're very fortunate, very blessed. Maybe we've got things going against us right now, but that's going to make us a championship team. If we can't overcome that adversity, we're never going to get that prize at the end of the rope."
Comments are currently unavailable. We're working on the development of a NASCAR fan forum ? please stay tuned.
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation