CHICAGO — In a track layout that challenged every Cup Series driver, adding a little moisture to the Chicago Street Course via the Sunday downpour in the Windy City couldn’t hurt anything, right?
It took all but three laps for Kyle Busch to find the tire barriers in Turn 6. He wouldn’t be the last, as several drivers experienced woes heading into the hard braking corner.
With the track being wet to start the event, Busch was trying to optimize the braking zones as passing corners, while other drivers were unsettled getting through them on the soaked streets of the Windy City.
With Busch going under the tire barriers, it brought out the race’s first caution.
“Today was eventful for sure to start,” Busch said after the race. “Just trying to get all you can there early in the race and try to make some passes when other guys are being a little bit tentative.”
While Busch was sitting in the tire barriers, he thought he could remain in the race, but he just needed to be towed away from the barriers. He had a lot to think about in a moment when it felt like time was passing slowly.
“I was just hopeful that the radiator wasn’t busted,” Busch said. “I guess this is an instance where I’m thankful these cars are built so tough because if it was the old car, I would not have made it.”
With significant damage to the right front fender, Busch rode around for much of the race. The No. 8 Chevrolet, which had runner-up finishes in the first two road course races of the season, finished 33rd in the opening stage.
With the delayed start and darkness quickly approaching, Busch and his savvy crew chief Randall Burnett needed to show their hands by playing strategy. Before NASCAR announced the race would be cut short by 25 laps, the No. 8 car pitted after a lap 40 caution involving Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman.
Chatting about it over the radio, the duo nearly spoiled their strategy.
“I was like, you guys need to stop talking about this so much. Just do it,” Busch said of pitting during the caution. “We’re going to give it away and have everybody else follow suit.
“It kind of worked out just with daylight and everything like that.
Busch was among the nine drivers to pit. Staying out were the likes of Christopher Bell, who won the first two stages, Tyler Reddick and eventual race winner Shane van Gisbergen.
Following the conclusion of the second stage, NASCAR made the call to officially shorten the race.
Busch remained competitive over the final 30 laps and stayed inside the top five. After his early-race skirmish with the tire barriers, he never got into the wall again, but he was experiencing brake woes throughout the race.
The No. 8 team still finished fifth, and Busch is the only driver to have top five finishes in all three races this season when turning left and right.
“It’s just unfortunate early getting caught up in the barriers and going back that far,” Busch said. “But we all dug in and gave it everything we had to rebound and come back.
“I definitely lost confidence after putting it in the tire barrier in my braking zones for the rest of the day, and I had a lot of lockup issues today, too.”
With five consecutive top-10 finishes, Busch is a mere 31 points back of the regular season championship lead in his first season with RCR. Prior to his top 10 streak beginning at the Coca-Cola 600, he was 11th in the championship standings, 76 points below.