There’s no guarantee that a lack of late cautions at Pocono and Michigan would mean Kyle Busch is a two-time winner in the Cup Series in 2017. But it’s worth wondering if Busch would have been in victory lane at least once if it wasn’t for the yellow flags.
A week after he lost the lead after the final restart of the race at Pocono, Busch was leading with 22 laps to go when NASCAR threw a caution for debris in turn 2. While second-place (and eventual race winner) Kyle Larson was catching Busch at the time of the caution, he held a comfortable lead of over a second at the time the yellow flag flew.
Much like he did at Pocono after Kasey Kahne’s brakes failed entering turn 1, Busch stayed out on the track during the caution flag. Unlike Pocono, where nearly the entire field behind him hit pit road, 13 cars stayed out along with Busch at Michigan.
The old tires Busch had at Pocono played a role in his demise there. Ryan Blaney, who had pitted under the caution flag, ran him down and passed Busch for the race win shortly after the race restarted. Sunday, Busch didn’t even have the lead exiting turn 2 immediately after the restart.
He fell victim to a wonderful side-draft maneuver by Kyle Larson. As Busch darted away as the field accelerated, Larson got to his quarterpanel and used the air to slow him down. As Busch’s car was aerodynamically hindered, Larson pulled even entering turn 1 and ahead of the No. 18 car off turn 2.
At Pocono, Busch fell through the field to finish ninth over the race’s final 10 laps.
Sunday, Busch fell through the field too. While his fall contained two hiccups in the form of restarts over the final 15 laps, he ended up finishing seventh.
Through 15 races, Busch is still winless in 2017. So are the rest of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. The team, which was the fastest in NASCAR over the past two seasons, has relatively struggled in 2017. But three of its drivers finished in the top 11 Sunday for the second-straight week. And those three drivers Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth are in the top 10 in the points standings.
Things aren’t nearly as bad as they are sometimes made out to be at JGR at the moment. And that’s because of the lofty standards the team set for itself. Busch and teammates are getting closer and closer to getting wins. They just need a little more speed and a caution or three to fall their way.
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