It was a good thing that Sunday’s race at Phoenix Raceway was 312 miles because Kurt Busch needed all of them to get to the front.
Busch seemingly came from nowhere to finish fifth. He didn’t earn any stage points. His average running position was 16th throughout the day, and Busch bounced up and down the leaderboard battling to crack into the top 10.
“It was surprising and it was fun,” Busch said. “I’m normally a sticker guy. I need sticker tires, and this car reacted really well to scuffs today, so that’s good for our notebook at 23XI. The restarts – I was able to find the right spots to be.
“We were the top Toyota today, which is somewhat of a surprise. We were just trying to get to 10th, but we will take a top five. It’s really cool for our program, this car number – number 45. To get a top five, check mark done. This was a good west coast swing. Not so much on points with Stage 1 and Stage 2, but our finishes were there, and we will keep chiseling away.”
Busch finished eighth (Fontana), 13th (Las Vegas), and fifth (Phoenix) in the three races out west. He led four laps in Las Vegas.
The final caution Sunday at Phoenix flew with nine laps to go, but the field, including Busch, did not pit. The last round of pit stops had come under caution with 27 laps to go. Through the choose rule, Busch lined up seventh for the final restart and grabbed two spots over the final three laps.
Phoenix was the first top five finish of the season and his best effort to date with 23XI Racing.
“It was a little loose on corner exit,” Busch said of his race. “That Turn 2 was a battle – a couple of guys spun right in front of me over there. We gave it our best. Once we got that sorted out in Turn 2, some of the other parts of the track got tight for us, but my car really surprised me on the refires.
“We were OK on older tires – usually, I’m a sticker guy. My crew chief, Billy Scott, said, ‘No, you are going to stay out, buddy.’ Really happy with the run.”