Call it the “Great Pumpkin Patch” – a frantic flurry of pit stops to repair left-rear damage to the bright orange No. 1 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet of driver Kurt Busch after getting caught up in a late multi-car melee during Friday night’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
That stellar repair work by the Phoenix Racing crew during no less than six trips down pit road, followed by a closing sprint to the finish that was pure “passion and heart” on the part of Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, netted a thrilling victory for the Phoenix Racing Chevy, affectionately dubbed “The Great Pumpkin” by Busch during late-race radio conversations with his crew chief and spotter.
“I don’t care about me right now,” Busch said after a wild celebration in victory lane. “Tonight is about Phoenix Racing. It’s just a matter of putting yourself in position to win. Tonight, we overcame our damage. We could have folded, but these guys jumped into action and didn’t give up.”
“There’s heart and passion out there that these big teams don’t have,” added crew chief Nick Harrison, who methodically guided his crew through the stellar repair job from atop the Phoenix Racing pit box.
Busch, who started fifth on the 43-car grid, had little trouble running at the front of the pack throughout the opening two-thirds of the race with a strong Phoenix Racing Chevy underneath him. He was aided by among other competitors his younger brother Kyle around the 2.5-mile superspeedway, having led 16 of his race-high 23 laps and eyeing the closing stretch of the race when he almost but not quite made it through a 14-car melee on lap 66. Busch was tagged hard in the left-rear quarter panel after almost clearing the wreck, and he quickly dove into the pits to begin what was to be a hefty repair job that necessitated another five trips to the pit box during the lengthy caution that ensued.
The crew was able to keep Busch on the lead lap, and when the race restarted with 27 laps to go, his was sitting in 21st place. Five laps later, he was back in the lead for the fifth time and he stayed there for five laps before losing his drafting help. Undaunted, Busch stayed in touch with the leaders as the laps were winding down, and he got a huge helping hand from Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who pushed Busch to the checkered flag during the green-white-checkered finish.
“It just worked out beautifully,” said Busch, who also led a race-high 42 laps in the No. 1 Phoenix Racing Chevy in this year’s season-opening race at Daytona, including the next-to-last lap, but had to settle for 10th after being involved in a multi-car melee that ended that event. “The seas parted. I juked and jived and found the right holes. I went high. I went low. I’m glad I didn’t have to move people out of the way at the end because Stenhouse was pushing hard. He knew he had to get us in position to go for the win. He stayed with us the right amount and then we could settle it on who could win it.”
All in all, it was a wild ride that left an emotional Busch focusing the spotlight squarely on his Phoenix Racing team after scoring his first restrictor-plate win in 50 career starts across NASCAR’s top three series – Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck. And it took place behind the wheel of “The Great Pumpkin.”
“I showed up at the shop on Tuesday, and we talked about how our Kentucky week went, what we could have done better,” said Busch, who scored his first Nationwide win of the season driving his brother’s Kyle Busch Motorsports entry at Richmond in April. “I went out back in the fab shop, and they were wrapping on both of our cars this fluorescent orange color. And I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ It’s just the energy (team owner) James Finch has for Daytona. He wanted his cars orange so they could be seen up front, so that car could be recognized without a sponsor on it. And we drove an unsponsored car into victory lane. I was just being my normal sarcastic self on the radio, and I said, ‘The Great Pumpkin is here, and the Great Pumpkin isn’t going to lift coming to the checkered flag.’”
Busch crossed the finish line .054 of a second ahead of Stenhouse to score his fifth Nationwide Series victory in 23 career starts. It was his second victory in 11 Nationwide starts this season, and his second top-10 finish in two series starts at Daytona. Michael Annett, Austin Dillon and Joey Logano rounded out the top-five. Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Mike Bliss, Timmy Hill and Sam Hornish, Jr., comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were six caution periods for 24 laps, with 14 drivers failing to finish.
The No. 1 Phoenix Racing team, which is taking part in a limited Nationwide Series schedule this season, will next take to the track for the Indy 250 on Saturday, July 28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The race starts at 4:30 p.m. EDT, with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 4 p.m.
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