By Brian Smith
On several occasions, Kyle Busch has made a valiant attempt at winning all three races in the spring race weekend at Dover International Speedway – the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. In 2010, he won both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races, and in a few other years he’s managed to win the Truck race.
But despite leading more than 1,000 laps at the Monster Mile over the last nine years entering this year’s race, he’s never been able to string together a Dover Triple Crown, or even put himself in the position to do so heading into Sunday.
For the first time he has an opportunity to pull that off, as Busch held off Trevor Bayne, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth and Chase Elliott to win the May 31 “Buckle Up 200 presented by Click It or Ticket” NASCAR Nationwide Series race, just a day after his victory in the “Lucas Oil 200” NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.
The victory marked the first time a driver has won both the Friday and Saturday spring races at the Monster Mile in the same weekend, and now it gives Busch the opportunity to pick up a weekend sweep if he can take the checkered flag in the June 1 “FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
Busch is also the only driver to ever win all three national touring series races in one weekend, having accomplished the feat at Bristol in August 2010.
“The race today was a little interesting for me with just the way it played out and the guys coming and going a little bit,” Busch said. “Chase was really fast early, [Logano] was there most of the day, Kenseth a little bit and [Bayne] gave us a run for our money there at the end.”
Part of the reason Busch hasn’t been able to pull off a weekend sweep at Dover has been the recent NASCAR Nationwide Series dominance of Logano at the Monster Mile, who had won the last four Saturday races at the track heading into the weekend and was trying to become just the fourth driver to win five consecutive races on the circuit at the same track – Busch is one of the others, having done it at Texas.
But Busch had a solid No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota on longer runs, while Logano spent most of the day dealing with an ill-handling machine. The irony there was Logano had won the pole, while Busch didn’t think his car was very good heading into the race – going so far as to say to television before the race that he couldn’t remember the last time he was so uncomfortable with his NASCAR Nationwide Series car heading into a race. But he gave his team credit for being able to figure things out.
“[Our car] got pretty good when we got it tightened up there towards the end,” Busch said. “The last 30 or 40 laps there I was just trying to hold those guys at bay. I was just trying to take my time through there so I didn’t lose it, as loose as I was.”
Bayne saw Busch was loose, and tried to take advantage. He was able to close the gap to less than two-tenths of a second with about 15 laps to go, but when the duo started encountering slower cars, Busch was able to open that gap back up to just under a second.
“With about 20 to go we started making some pretty good gains on him,” Bayne said. “His car was really loose and he started wiggling up the race track. But he got through lapped traffic a little bit better than I did.
“I caught him again, but just ran the front tires off the car trying to catch him. His car being free, it seemed to last a little bit longer than me. He said it took all he had to get it done, and I told him it took all I had to try and catch him.”
Elliott started the race alongside Logano, and Logano was content to let Elliott drive off with the lead from the drop of the green flag. But when a caution came out at lap 17, Logano stayed out while Elliott pitted, and Logano then comfortably led the next 50 laps.
The race’s second caution flag flew for debris at lap 74, and at that point it was Logano’s time to pit along with everybody else. He had been holding off advances from Busch for the previous 10 laps or so. But at that stop, Busch got out in 13.3 seconds compared to Logano’s 14.1, allowing Busch to restart with his first lead of the day.
“The first caution was kind of on the cusp of pitting or not pitting, and we decided to follow the leader,” crew chief Adam Stevens said. “A key point in the race was when Logano stayed out there. Then they were a lap or two from having to pit under green. They had to put a lot more fuel in than we did, and that helped us beat them off pit road.”
As it turned out, Busch wouldn’t relinquish first place again, although it wasn’t for lack of effort by those chasing him. He beat Kenseth off pit road during one yellow-flag stop and all the leaders stayed out during another caution period. But for the most part, Logano, Kenseth, Bayne and Elliott spent most of their effort racing each other, with Logano ending up particularly frustrated as he saw his chance for another Dover victory disappear.
“We were going for that five in a row, but just came up short there,” Logano said. “We were going for those restarts on the inside, but we didn’t have a good enough start to pass cars there. My car was just too loose there. It was kind of frustrating out there. It’s still frustrating here afterwards. But all good things must come to an end, and we’ll give it another shot in the fall and hopefully a couple years later be sitting back here again.”
Bayne was considerably happier to have finished second, and was considerably happier with his car than some of the other drivers.
“I was just glad we had a good run, because I was afraid I’d have to eat my words,” Bayne said. “Jack Roush came up to me in the driver’s meeting and I said it was the best Dover car I’d ever had, and he said, ‘Are you sure?’”
Bayne has now finished in the top 10 in five of his six NASCAR Nationwide Series races at Dover, and is fourth in the points standings after the weekend. Regan Smith has the points lead after a 10th-place finish, with Elliott Sadler just four points back after finishing ninth. Chase Elliott is third, and Ty Dillon slots behind Bayne in fifth.
So now the attention turns to Busch on Sunday, which is a whole new wrinkle to the weekend – added in with Jimmie Johnson looking for a ninth win at Dover and points leader Jeff Gordon, a Dover standout once upon a time, tackling the Monster Mile with what he says is a healthier back than the one that knocked him out of practice for last week’s race at Charlotte.
“Our car’s been really fast here, especially on a green racetrack,” Busch said. “But we’re not going to be on a green racetrack. We’ve got some good notes – we changed some things that worked, changed some things that didn’t work. So we’ll find out tomorrow.”
Busch said such a sweep would certainly be a career highlight, as was the case with Bristol.
“For what I’ve accomplished so far in my career, it ranks pretty high – probably about first, to be honest with you,” he said. “But I don’t have a Daytona 500, no Coke 600, no all-star race, no Brickyard. So hopefully someday the big ones come. But the Bristol sweep ranks right up there, so one here would rank right up there too.”
It would create a dilemma that anybody would be happy to have – what to do with all these Miles the Monster trophies. He’s got two from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins at the track in 2008 and 2010, and four each in victories in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
“I have a mom and a dad, and a bunch of kids,” Busch quipped. “I need some aunts and uncles now.”