Kyle Busch led 173 of the 227 laps at LMS, but rain foiled his chances of winning, just as it had in Saturday night's Nationwide Series race, which Mike Bliss won by conserving fuel and staying on the track while Busch and other contenders came to the pits in a rain-shortened race.
Busch fell victim to a similar theme in the Coca-Cola 600, which he led until the rain fell on lap 221. With five drivers either staying out or taking two tyres under caution, as was the case with Carl Edwards and Brian Vickers, Busch was credited with just a sixth-place finish.
“Weather - you can't do anything about it, really,” Busch sighed, “We knew it was coming, we knew it was here, but we weren't going to be able to ride around under caution for more than five laps. That was all we had of fuel left. We had to come down and put gas in it. Fortunately, a lot of guys like us took four tyres, so we didn't lose that much ground.”
Yet again, however, Busch was painfully reminded that sometimes the fastest car doesn't always win.
“We had a fast M&M's Camry,” he said, having notched his fifth top ten finish in eleven career Cup Series starts at Charlotte, “Our car was pretty good on short runs, but we were making gains on it for the long runs too. Getting stuck in traffic kind of hurt us... and then there was the weather.”
Busch started on the outside of row one and quickly passed pole-sitter Ryan Newman to take the lead on lap three. He then held top spot, aside from during pit-stop cycles, until lap 119, when Vickers passed him for the lead. But the Red Bull Toyota's lead proved to be short-lived as a fast green flag pit-stop by the M&M's team on lap 129 got Busch back out front on lap 134.
In the meantime, intermittent rain showers had already red-flagged the race on three different occasions until just past the halfway point and, as another rain shower forced a caution on lap 221, Busch and crew chief Steve Addington had a decision to make. With fuel running low and the #18 leading, do they pit and give up the lead, or gamble and stay out, banking on the fact that rain will force the end of the event early but knowing that, if the race goes back to green, then Busch would have to pit.
Addington chose the first option and made the decision to pit and take four tyres on lap 222. The move slotted Busch into sixth place behind eventual race winner David Reutimann, Newman and Robby Gordon, all of whom elected to stay out. Meanwhile, Edwards and Vickers beat the #18 team out of the pits after taking just two tyres and fuel.
Addington's strategy never had the chance to work as, after waiting almost two hours, NASCAR called the race official, and there was nothing Busch could do other than chalk up the scuttled shot at victory to bad luck.
“We were looking at the radar all day long and the rain would get close to us and break up, or we'd get a few little sprinkles in and they'd stop the race,” Addington noted, “I thought we'd wait to later than 6:30pm to call this since they do have lights here, but I'm running a different race than they are running. I'm racing against the guys that we raced against all day long and, if it went back green, we were sitting in the catbird seat again.
"I'm just really proud of Kyle and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing and all these guys on this M&M's team because they worked their butts off and we had a sixth-place finish to show for it after leading the most laps - again.”