Team Lowe’s Racing Salvages Top-20 Finish at Milwaukee
- Jun 26, 2004
MILWAUKEE, Wis. (June 26, 2004) – Kyle Busch and his Team Lowe’s Racing crew overcame a setback to claim a top-20 result in Saturday’s 250-mile NASCAR Busch Series race at The Milwaukee Mile.
After posting a fourth-place qualifying effort earlier in the day, a loose-handling condition on Busch’s No. 5 Lowe’s/Briggs and Stratton Chevrolet caused him to plummet as far back as 28th by just the 67th lap of the 250-lap event.
As they’ve done several times this season, Busch and his Hendrick Motorsports crew displayed their resilience, bouncing back to post a 16th-place finish, two laps down to race winner Ron Hornaday.
After posting the fastest time in the practice session prior to qualifying, Busch and his team were understandably excited about the possibility of claiming their fifth pole position of the 2004 season. But during his qualifying run, the young driver pushed his luck a little too far. After posting the fastest time of the qualifying session on his first lap, Busch tried to improve his time during his second attempt.
“I tried to make the car turn by using the throttle, and it just didn’t work,” Busch said. “I was really trying to hang it out there and post a better time on my second lap, but it ended up biting me.
“The car spun around on the backstretch, and while I was lucky enough not to hit anything, I guess it just killed my tires.”
With the Milwaukee event being a one-day show—with practice, qualifying and the race all happening on Saturday—NASCAR impounded each team’s entry after time trials. This meant drivers would start the race on the same set of tires they used during qualifying.
After the spin, Busch brought his car to pit road, where he checked his tires for visible flat spots. Officials gave the Hendrick Motorsports team the option of putting new tires on the No. 5 Lowe’s/Briggs and Stratton Chevrolet before the race started, but ruled that Busch would have to drop to the rear of the field if the team elected to do so.
After an inspection revealed no visible signs of wear, the team decided to keep the qualifying tires on the car and not give up the track position.
When the race began, Busch quickly moved to the front of the pack, taking over the lead on Lap 2. He stayed at the point for five circuits before relinquishing the lead to Casey Atwood. Busch told his crew the car had developed an extremely loose-handling condition, and it soon became clear that the tires were much more worn than the team had thought.
By the time Busch came to pit road for service during the first caution period, the No. 5 team found itself in 27th position, two laps down to race leader Shane Hmiel.
“Tonight was so far away from what you expected, as quick as we were in practice,” McGrew said. “This sport’s about learning lessons and trying not to repeat yourself, and seeing as we didn’t see any flat spots on the tires, I would have never thought they were that worn out.
“That right-rear tire was showing cord when we pitted that first time, and it was strictly from how much wear was on the thing from the spin, and it’s just so hard to tell that. Hindsight being 20-20 as it always is, we should have probably just come in and got the tires and lost all that track position from the get-go, and we never would have gone a lap down.”
Unsure as to how much of the loose condition was caused by the worn tires, McGrew had his crew put four fresh tires on the No. 5 and make several chassis adjustments to tighten the car’s handling during the pit stop, sending Busch back out for the Lap 84 restart.
Immediately, Busch’s lap times improved to the point that he was keeping pace with most of the drivers in the top-10. Busch told his crew that the adjustments, coupled with the fresh Goodyear Eagles, had done too good of a job of alleviating the car’s loose-handling condition, and the car was now tight in the middle of the turns. From there, the team would spend the rest of the race trying to free the car up.
Fortunately for the No. 5 team, the second half of the race would feature several long green-flag runs, which allowed the race leaders to lap a number of cars. This eventually put quite a few competitors on the same lap as Busch, and his quick lap times allowed him to pass those drivers for position.
“If we wouldn’t have had some long green-flag runs, we wouldn’t have had a prayer, because the leaders were so fast that they were lapping cars and getting guys back there where we could race them,” McGrew said.
Busch passed several cars to move into 21st before the caution flag came out for the final time on Lap 195 for an accident involving Johnny Sauter. Busch brought his entry to the attention of the No. 5 Team Lowe’s Racing crew, which again proved why it’s one of the best crews in the Busch Series. The team gave Busch four fresh tires and fuel, returning him to the track in 17th position, four spots higher than when he had come to pit road.
In the closing laps, Johnny Sauter retired from the event, which moved Busch up to 16th position by the time the checkered flag was displayed.
“I’m happy that we minimized the damage today, but I’m mad at myself for spinning the car during qualifying,” Busch said after the event. “From looking at our lap times near the end of the race, we should have had a top-five or even a top-three car, if I hadn’t killed the tires during qualifying. It’s another lesson learned, and we’ll go on to Daytona and focus on the second half of the year.”
With the finish, Busch remains in second position in the NASCAR Busch Series standings, 28 points back of leader Martin Truex Jr.
The No. 5 team now heads to Daytona International Speedway for the 18th Busch Series event of the 2004 season. That 300-mile race will air live on Friday, July 2, at 7:30 p.m. ET on FX and MRN Radio.