MARTINSVILLE, Va. — There was no consoling Kyle Busch. A runner-up finish was a race lost. A dominant car was thwarted by a set of tires Busch called “junk.’’ And a stage defeat was the result of being too nice.
Everything wasn’t great for Busch.
Busch’s frustration grew throughout Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway after losing Stage 2 on the final corner because of contact from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Busch’s annoyance intensified during his duel with eventual winner Brad Keselowski with about 50 laps left. Busch knew it was only a matter of time before Keselowski would get by and drive off.
After the race, Busch said “Thank you Goodyear’’ on his team’s radio.
Busch’s discontent was that his car’s handling changed dramatically after his final pit stop. He complained about the car’s handling shortly after that stop and crew chief Adam Stevens told him they had only changed tires.
“It’s frustrating to have efforts that fall short,’’ Busch said, noting he felt he should have won at Phoenix and Sunday at Martinsville but remains winless.
His only victory of any kind this year is winning Stage 1 in the Daytona 500.
He looked on his way to winning Stage 2 Sunday until he ran upon a group of cars seeking to stay on the lead lap shortly before the stage ended. The group of cars included Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Austin Dillon.
What happened was that contact from Stenhouse forced Busch wide and allowed Chase Elliott to nose by to win the stage.
“I actually was rolling into Turn 3 and was kind of going higher out of my way in order to let (Stenhouse) back by and give him the lap,’’ Busch said. “That was my intent. He just drove through me. Cost me my spot to (Elliott). I was hoping I could run off the corner side by side with (Stenhouse) and keep (Elliott) at bay and keep my nose in front of his and be able to score the segment. I was trying to be the nice guy but nice guys don’t finish first.’’
Stenhouse called it hard racing and not retaliation.
“I got sponsors, fans and a team to take care of,’’ he said. “I had to stay on the lead lap. That was a turning point in the race. If (Busch) laps (Dillon) and then we’re stuck a lap down, it could ruin our race. I drove as hard as I could, and it paid off for us.
“(It was) nothing to get him back for. Cars were hard to drive. We had a lot of laps on the tires. I saw he was going to try to get on the outside of (Dillon) and that’s where was good in (turns) 3 and 4. So I ran in there with him. I was just going to give him a nudge and make sure he didn’t get by (Dillon). I didn’t mean to give up the win there for him in that stage.’’
Even more frustrating for Busch was that he lost a playoff point by losing that stage.
“Especially because we don’t win races in the Chase,’’ he said. “Definitely. That was a point that we were looking to score and try to achieve and we lost it. It’s just like the rest of this year, too, we’ve just thrown away points. Points matter week in and week out. We’ve got to somehow get our luck better. I don’t know what it is that just keeps knocking us back that we don’t have the things kind of go our way. They just haven’t been going our way, but we just have to keep plugging along until they do.’’