Kyle Busch’s third-place run Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway proved invigorating and baffling to the former champion.
The result was his best of the season, finishing ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (sixth) and Christopher Bell (seventh). Sunday’s race also showed what Busch and new crew chief Ben Beshore could do with a cantankerous car.
“It’s all about building blocks,” Busch said. “I felt like today was a good building process for us. I just always kept trying to give the best feedback I possibly could. Being able to tell him what the car was doing, where we were coming from with the adjustments we were making. He was making good adjustments all day.”
Those adjustments were needed. Busch ran five of the first 150 laps in the top 10.
Busch said what he and Beshore learned in the simulator did not translate to the track. That made it more challenging for the No. 18 team in the first half of the race.
“Every week, it seems to be close or far away, whatever,” Busch said of data from the simulator. “It’s interesting on how we can figure it all out.
“Last year, once we lost practice … we would go to the simulator every single week. I spent five hours there working on things, trying to get us the right balance. … A raceable (balance) where I feel like I can drive the car a particular way that you need to drive it in the race on there, then in real life. It’s just not quite correlating between the two.
“This week, we came to the race track super, super tight. I mean, eight numbers tighter on the racetrack than it was in sim. Typically when you’re good in sim, you’re about two numbers loose. I don’t know. That’s a 10-number difference, right? It’s just a big deal.
“I mean, a lot of it is tire. We have to figure out the tire model, and try to make what we think is right there. I don’t know, we’ll keep working on it. That’s the only tool we’ve got.”
The tire compound used Sunday was the same teams ran during last September’s Las Vegas playoff race. Busch finished sixth that day. He spent the first 117 laps of that race in the top five and didn’t run in the top five the remaining 151 laps.
Busch said he and Beshore might have to devise another plan as they look ahead to other 1.5-mile races on the schedule, particularly Kansas.
“In my opinion, I would think that as we probably go a few more races, we would just have to look at our setup — how we start, how we end some of these races — than what tracks we’re going to that mimic this,” Busch said. “We go to Kansas, I would take this setup right there, look at the two Vegas and Kansas setups from last year, look at this Vegas setup and see how we want to build our Kansas setup. Try to come up with a way of being able to do it, forget about the simulator, you know what I mean?
“That’s where it gets complicated and challenging. We’re trying to utilize and make that tool better, so we can really come out here and look like heroes.”