Kurt Busch rides pit strategy to second consecutive top-five finish

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 02: Kurt Busch, driver of the #1 Star Nursery Chevrolet, during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 2, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Kurt Busch was struggling in dirty air early in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The solution? Trade the dirty air for clean air at the front of the pack.

Busch and crew chief Matt McCall opted to stay on track as long as possible during the second stage of the race, pitting for tires and fuel with 15 laps left in the segment. That enable Busch to keep his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet on the track while others came to pit road for the stage break.

Busch led the field to green on Lap 168 and held the top spot on older tires despite huge pressure from Kevin Harvick. It took 20 laps for Harvick to grab the lead from Busch, who held on for a fifth-place finish in his third race with his new team.

“We got really tight in traffic, and our pit strategist was saying that, if we stayed long in the second stage, then we could stay out,” Busch said. “It played out to where we got clean air, and it completely changed the complexion of the car…

“It gave us a lot to learn from today, and I’m really proud of everybody to get a top five. Now we’ve got two top fives to year, but we know we’ve got some more work to do.”

Greg Engle