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Misfortune Follows Busch to Atlanta

Blown Tire Ends Dominating Run for Farm Bureau Insurance Team

Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch
At least it’s insured. That was about the only solace that could be taken by Kyle Busch when a blown right-front tire on his No. 20 Farm Bureau Insurance Toyota turned what had been a dominant run in Saturday’s Nicorette 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway into a disappointing 24th-place finish.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had paced the field five times for a race-high 153 laps and was leading handily when on lap 171 his right-front tire went flat as he entered turn one at nearly 190 mph. As the blown tire ripped apart the fender and broke the right front shock free from the race car, Busch careened into the SAFER Barrier that lines the track’s outside retaining walls.

“Obviously, we had the dominant car,” said Busch, who had led all but 19 laps until the accident. “Farm Bureau Insurance and Toyota should be real proud. These guys on the No. 20 team have had four winning cars this year, but only have two trophies to show for it. I’m just sorry about the fact that we blew another right-front tire.”

Busch alluded to the No. 20 team’s back-to-back victories at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., where his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart took the first two Nationwide Series wins of the season. Stewart appeared to be on his way to a third straight win last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway until a crash just past the halfway mark of the race relegated the No. 20 Toyota to an underserved 27th-place finish.

Busch made sure the No. 20 machine was back in its usual race-leading position when the green flag dropped for round four at Atlanta.

The No. 20 Farm Bureau Insurance Toyota started second after wintry weather canceled qualifying, forcing NASCAR officials to set the field based on last year’s owner point standings. Busch took full advantage of the good track position, as he quickly passed first-place starter Jeff Burton and went on to lead the next 29 laps.

Busch was pretty much on cruise control, giving up the point only during pit stop cycles. After leading the opening 29 laps, Busch led laps 31-52, 57-86, 98-142 and 144-170. The 22-year-old wheelman was on his way to breaking the series record for most laps led in a race until the accident on lap 171. The crew was able to repair the car enough to finish the race, albeit one lap down.

“Goodyear is sending the right-front tire back to the lab and they’re going to do some advanced analysis on it,” said Dave Rogers, crew chief for the No. 20 Farm Bureau Insurance Toyota. “Just looking at the tire out in the pit, they couldn’t determine why it failed. I can confirm that they checked our tires on the two previous pit stops. We had two 50-lap, green flag runs and our tires looked great. Goodyear confirmed that our tires looked as good, or better, than anybody’s. I think it showed on the long runs where we could just drive away from the field. Usually if you are abusing your tires, you can take off from the field early in the run and fade late in the run, but we didn’t see that here. I don’t know what happened. It just wasn’t our day.”

It was a case of déjŕ vu for Busch, who while driving Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota last week at Las Vegas, endured a blown right-front tire that sent him into the track’s SAFER Barrier in turn three. Busch had been running second to Stewart.

Saturday’s dominating performance and subsequent heartbreak was a little too familiar for Busch. In last year’s Nicorette 300, he led five times for 143 laps before a loose lug nut on his final pit stop caused him to settle for a third-place finish.

Despite the latest disappointment, Busch dropped only one spot in the championship driver standings. He is now third, 74 points behind new series leader Kevin Harvick and 49 points behind second-place Carl Edwards.

As for the owner standings, the No. 20 car dropped from first to fourth, just one point behind the third-place No. 5 car owned by Rick Hendrick, and 32 points arrears the leading No. 33 car of Kevin Harvick Inc.

Enjoying a much better outing in the Nicorette 300 was Matt Kenseth, who won the race to score his 24th career Nationwide Series victory and his second at Atlanta. Kevin Harvick finished second, while Burton, Edwards and Bobby Labonte rounded out the top-five. Brad Keselowski, Mike Bliss, Jason Leffler, David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose comprised the remainder of the top-10.

There were eight caution periods for 30 laps, with 10 drivers failing to finish the 198-lap race, which was extended three laps past its scheduled 195-lap distance due to a green/white/checkered finish.

The next event on the Nationwide Series schedule is the March 15 Sharpie Mini 300 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2:30 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by ABC beginning with its pre-race show at 2 p.m. The race will also be broadcast live on SIRIUS Satellite Radio Channel 128.

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