Despite a successful weekend in the Pennsylvania mountains, Kyle Busch was hesitant to declare his Joe Gibbs Racing team is back near the top at the NASCAR Cup Series pecking order.
Busch left Pocono Raceway with a second-place finish from the Saturday race and the trophy after making the fuel mileage work Sunday afternoon. As the regular season races toward its conclusion, Busch has climbed to fifth in the standings with five top-10 finishes in the last six races. But when it comes to beating Hendrick Motorsports, Busch leaned more toward history at Pocono being the catalyst for a good weekend.
“Well, this is a really, really good place for us,” Busch said. “We’ve been fortunate to be fast here since probably since 2014, ’15 timeframe. We’ve carried that on through to today. We have a really good baseline package of what we know how to work off of.
“As the aero packages change, the tires change, all that changes, you have to change a little bit as well, too. Our guys did a really good job of coming here with fast stuff. Same thing this weekend. We were fast, the Hendrick cars were still faster.”
Alex Bowman won Saturday’s race. Busch led 30 laps in that event, but the four Hendrick drivers swarmed the top of the leaderboard, combining to lead 44 of the race’s 130 laps. Had Kyle Larson not blown a tire, they would likely have placed drivers first, second, and fourth.
“Yesterday for sure through the corners,” Busch said of the Hendrick speed. “Never really ran with them, raced with them much today. I guess I did with the 24 (William Byron) a little bit when I was stuck behind the 3 (Austin Dillon). He couldn’t pass me either. Again today, we were pretty quick.”
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) June 28, 2021
Sunday, Busch again led 30 laps. Meanwhile, the Hendrick drivers did wind up in contention for the race win, but they were not as dominant as expected.
“Overall, this is a good place for us,” continued Busch. “We like coming here and having good runs. Last week was not so good for us. We did have that flat tire that knocked us all the way. Still, I don’t think we’re going to finish much more than 12-ish anyway.”
Pocono has quickly turned into one of Busch’s better tracks. Busch has won four of the last 10 Pocono races and has finished outside the top nine just once. In addition, he’s led 436 laps in that same stretch.
Earlier this week, Toyota Racing Development President David Wilson told RACER that the manufacturer is in “chase mode.” It means work needs to be done across the board: engine, aero, and everything in-between.
Post-race and finally had the nerve to read @KellyCrandall’s piece for @RACERmag. Too candid perhaps, but yes, I said all that and own it. One weekend does not cure all of our ills, but I know we have the heart and the will to continue to bring the fight. #TeamToyota #NASCAR https://t.co/QawqRUbn3t
— David Wilson (@DavidWilsonTRD) June 28, 2021
Two Gibbs drivers placed inside the top 10 both Saturday and Sunday. Fuel mileage bit Denny Hamlin from a potential top-10 finish as he led with two laps to go Sunday.
Busch’s crew chief, Ben Beshore, acknowledged the team got off to a slow start this season. However, Beshore said their win that he felt they are hitting their stride.
“We had some issues early in the year; we were back 14th in points,” Beshore said. “We’ve had steady progression. The 500 [horsepower] tracks seem to be our strength right now. We haven’t had race-winning speed at the 550s, but we’ve had top-five speed. We’re just missing that little bit to honestly be able to run with the Hendrick cars.
“I think we’re getting there. We got some work to do on the 750 type stuff and the road courses. But we’re close. We just need that extra percentage to be able to compete for wins week in, week out. But the team and everybody has really gelled. I think this type of event really showed it, like how the team had to dig down deep, overcome problems, solve the problem that we were underneath, make the best out of today’s situation. It was really a testament to the team.”