Monday morning NASCAR recap: Busch's total team win; Keselowski lashes out; Stewart slumps

Jared C. Tilton

The Monday morning NASCAR recap looks at Kyle Busch’s statement victory, Brad Keselowski’s controversial comments and Tony Stewart’s mystifying slump.

The record book will show Kyle Busch won the NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway and in doing so picked up the 26th victory of his career.

While Busch deserves a share of the credit, the majority of the accolades belong elsewhere.

They belong to the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew who, when it mattered most, performed their jobs flawlessly.

When the caution waved for a piece of debris with 19 laps left and with Martin Truex Jr. soundly in the lead, it was clear Busch's best chance to get in front of Truex was by passing him on pit road.

With a 12-second pit stop that was nearly a second better than Truex's, Busch got the track position he needed. From there he controlled the restart; got the jump he needed and drove away for his second win of the year.

"As soon as that caution came, my [boys] stepped up to the plate and hit a grand slam," Busch said. So that was really, really cool that they hit an 11.7 on Dave's (Rogers, crew chief) watch. It's a crew chief's watch, so it's a little fast.

"But we're used to those guys. They're just so great."

In a way this was a total team victory and that isn't something that always could be said about the No. 18 team.

For all his vast talent, Busch's career has been littered by incidents where too often he let his emotions get the best of him. While it's easy to say that at age 27 he has finally matured, there is more to it than that.

After a disappointing 2012 season where engine failures cost the team precious points, certain victories and ultimately a spot in the Chase, Busch seems to have gained perspective.

There was no throwing his team under the proverbial bus last season. It was a group that took many lumps but never wavered in its support of one another.

"I think back to last year at the end of the year, Kyle probably had some of the most bitter disappointments, I think, that's happened to us in 22 years," said Joe Gibbs.

"I think last year at the end of the year, Kyle really handled all of those things about as good as you could handle them. I think it showed real maturity, and I think that kind of set the course for this year."

This was also evident throughout the early portions of this season, when engine troubles in back-to-back weeks led to poor finishes at Daytona and Phoenix.

There was no ranting, no tantrums and no pointing fingers. Just a driver and team in lockstep with the knowledge that better days were soon ahead.

Those better days have arrived in spades. Since finishing 23rd at Phoenix, Busch has been a force reeling off five consecutive finishes of fifth or better including two wins in the last three races.

For the first time the 18 team is truly a team in every sense of the word.

"Since (Daytona, Phoenix), we've talked and we've worked and we continue to grow and making our cars fast each and every weekend," Busch said. "Right now, it's having good stuff, having good communication, having our people with their backs not against the wall and everybody being able to work and work smart."

Brad Keselowski sounds off on NASCAR

Brad Keselowski's outspokenness is a breath of fresh air in an era where drivers are mindful of saying or doing anything that might be construed as offensive. Although there have been occasions when he's been called before Brian France to discuss his loquacious remarks, that's nothing compared to what's likely to come.

Following a hard-fought ninth-place finish, Keselowski took the opportunity to defend his team after a whirlwind day that included NASCAR collecting parts from both Penske Racing entries and declaring that the organization was doing some sort of chicanery with the rear suspension.

That Keselowski stood by his team is not a surprise, nor was the passion he exhibited.

But what's going to land the defending series champion not just in hot but scalding water, is the way he questioned the integrity of NASCAR, directly stating that officials were out to get his team.

If there is one thing NASCAR doesn't take kindly to it's the perception that it plays favorites and targets those drivers and teams that don't stay in line.

Keselowski has put NASCAR squarely in a corner and it has little choice but to hand out some sort of punishment.

If Denny Hamlin's innocent observation regarding the competitiveness of the Gen-6 car was worth a $25,000 fine, Keselowski should expect his fine to be at least double.

Now, if Keselowski's words are accurate and there is an agenda to target the No. 2 team, that's a game-changer. How he goes about proving it remains to be seen, but that's for him to figure out.

The lesson in this for Keselowski it's that while it's OK to be open and honest, dropping allegations without proof is a big no-no in any walk of life. And if he continues, it will be he and not NASCAR that has a credibility problem.

Tony Stewart's slump

There's been a driver noticeably absent this season. Oh, he's competed in every race and even had his name in the headlines following a brief skirmish on pit road.

For the most part, it's fair to say that Tony Stewart has been missing in action and was again Saturday night when he finished a nondescript 21st.

Through seven races the three-time Cup champion has posted just a single top 10; save for Fontana where he was out front for 18 laps, has failed to lead a lap anywhere else.

And Stewart's decline isn't something that has suddenly been brought about because of the conversion to the Gen-6 car. In fact, his performance drop can be traced back to second half of last season.

Following his victory in the July Daytona race, Stewart hasn't been back to the winner's circle. Even more telling is in the 25 starts since his last victory, he's finished in the top five on just four occasions and has never led more than 38 laps in a given race.

The obvious difference between the Stewart who blitzed the competition in the 2011 Chase to Stewart who is in perhaps the worst slump of his career is the change atop the pit box from Darian Grubb to Steve Addington.

Although it's not fair to place the blame entirely at the feet of Addington, that is the nature of the business even if other factors may be in play. Factors that include the expansion of Stewart-Haas Racing to three fulltime cars while struggling to fill gaps in sponsorship.

But whatever the reason(s) behind the 14 team's slide into mediocrity, something has to give, and soon.

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