When it comes to gambling and race strategy, Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the perfect venue for Kurt Busch and crew chief Matt McCall to do both in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400.
The pair chose to stay out at the end of Stage 2 and grabbed the lead for a total of 23 laps, from Lap 164 to 168 and again from Lap 170 to 188, ultimately leading to a fifth-place finish.
It was that strategy that resulted in the older Busch brother earning his second-best career finish – in 14 tries – at his home track and the best since he finished third at the 1.5-mile oval in 2005.
“We made one adjustment and I got really tight in traffic, and then our pit strategist was saying if we stay long on the second stage, then we can stay out,” Busch said. “So, we worked that.
“It played out where we got clean air and it completely changed the complexion of the car. And that’s what we have to do. When we’re in clean air, the car is like this (pointing down to simulate downforce). When we’re in dirty air, the car is like that (pointing upward, when downforce goes away).
“I’ve got to get it to where its balanced evenly. But it gave us a lot to learn from today and I’m really proud of everybody to get a top five. Hometown track, Star Nursery (one of Busch’s original sponsors when he began racing) on board. It gave me chills at one point, but I’m like, ‘Hey, we’ve got to get the job done.’ ”
After finishing 25th in the season-opening Daytona 500, Busch has back-to-back top-five finishes: third last week at Atlanta and fifth at Las Vegas, making him the highest-finishing Chevrolet driver in each of the last two races.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s other driver, Kyle Larson, has yet to finish in the top five and has placed 12th in the last two races.
“I’m really happy with two top fives to start the year,” said Busch, who moved up to 10th in the Cup standings, 38 points behind series leader Logano. “We are playing it smart. We haven’t had any penalties, and we will just keep chipping away at it. So, good day for our Chevy, I think we might be top Chevy again.”