Kyle Busch finished second at Martinsville. Yes, second. Again.
For those who are keeping count, that’s three runner-up efforts for Busch in the first six races of the season. Each of those also came to a Stewart-Haas Racing driver, with Clint Bowyer taking the honors Monday afternoon.
Furthermore, Busch has finished no worse than third in the last four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races. Take out the tire issues and crash he had in the season-opening race at Daytona and Busch has finished no worse than seventh this year.
And after the STP 500, Busch now leads the point standings.
“We take solace, sure, but ultimately we’re here to win each and every week,” Busch said of his team’s solid start. “I know everybody is, but we’ve been that close each and every week, so we’re right there, we’re knocking on the door. We’re trying.”
Busch called his team the “closest thing,” the closest competition to the leaders every week. Busch hasn’t come up short because of mistakes; rather, drivers like Bowyer and Kevin Harvick hit on it “a little bit more than we have.”
“The SHR team is certainly, probably, one of the better teams right now,” Busch continued. “But we’re right there knocking at their heels.”
Without the aid of lapped traffic, Busch had no fight for Bowyer. The margin of victory was 1.14 seconds as Bowyer drove away from Busch on the race’s final restart with 109 laps to go. Bowyer led 215 of the final 216 laps.
Busch led that one lap only because of how he and Bowyer were positioned on pit road. The No. 18 pit stall was positioned past the start/finish line near Turn 1, while Bowyer was positioned near Turn 4, allowing Busch to briefly overtake Bowyer on pit road and cross the start/finish line as the leader.
But once Bowyer beat Busch – and everyone else – off pit road, he never looked back.
“We just tried to maintain and keep ourselves in the right position, in the right spots all day long on the long runs and save our stuff as much as we could to see if we could mount a charge late in the going,” said Busch. “For us, saving our stuff, the 14 was able to save his stuff and he was a little bit better than we were. He was able to kind of edge out there through the early stages of firing off each and every time – first 10, 15 [laps] and kind of get that gap and then he’d kind of just hold that.
“He was probably saving just as much as I was trying to save to make sure he had something to go at the end. He was fast enough there at the end too, and he had enough gap that he was able to hold us off. Just close. We’re right there, just not being able to knock it through.”