Close but no checkered flag for Kyle Busch at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, VA - MARCH 24: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Chocolate Bar Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on March 24, 2019 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Kyle Busch was close in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway—just not close enough.

Trying for his third straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, Busch was second off pit road under caution for a restart on Lap 456 of 500, but he couldn’t get past eventual race winner Brad Keselowski.

On Lap 457, Chase Elliott drove around Busch to the outside to take second, and that’s the way the race finished. Busch’s third-place run actually hurt his average finish for the season, knocking it down to 2.7 through six races.

Busch qualified 14th on Saturday and struggled through the middle portion of the race, but sound adjustments to his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and excellent work in the pits helped him gain spots on every stop. But those factors weren’t enough to overcome a slight deficiency in speed.

“Even when we unloaded here in practice, we just weren’t quite up on the speed charts like we expected to be,” said Busch, who had won the previous two Cup races at ISM Raceway in Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. “First run off the truck was really good, but as the track took rubber, our car just kind of slowed down and we just didn’t have what we needed there.

“Overall, though, today the midpoint day of today’s race was a bit ugly for us, and then we turned it around, and thankful to have (crew chief) Adam Stevens and all my guys that give me everything that I need to kind of go out there and work with, and we were able to turn our day around. Fast pit stops got us a lot of track position today. It was hard to pass, besides rooting a guy off the bottom, and even when you tried to do that, they just cut your nose off and you lose a spot.

“But overall, we fought hard for today’s finish. Not a finish that we wanted to get. Thought we had a chance to win, actually, but could have been a whole lot worse.”

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