Kyle Busch leads Big Three into title race

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PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 11: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M

Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service

 

PHOENIX, AZ – NOVEMBER 11: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Holding off Brad Keselowski after a restart with 12 laps left in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway, Kyle Busch claimed his eighth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season and led NASCAR’s Big Three into the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

PHOENIX, AZ – NOVEMBER 11: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M

After a wreck on Lap 269 of 312 ended the championship hopes of Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott—both of whom had been in the mix throughout the day—Busch grabbed the lead from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones on Lap 277 and held it the rest of the way, through two subsequent cautions and restarts.

Busch’s victory, the 51st of his career and his second at the one-mile track—coming 13 years after his first one—tied him for the series lead with Kevin Harvick, who had to overcome an early flat tire to join Busch, Martinsville winner Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. (14th on Sunday) in the Championship 4 Round.

The 51st win broke a tie with NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett, leaving Busch alone in 11th place on the all-time list.

By the time he took the checkered flag .501 seconds ahead of Keselowski, Busch had already clinched a spot in the title race on points.

“What a day! What a race!” Busch said. “It’s an awesome team and awesome group of guys. Can’t say enough about everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing—all the men and women there that work so hard to prepare such great race cars that I get to drive.”

Busch, who won the 2015 championship after missing the first 11 events of the season because of injuries sustained in an accident at Daytona, now carries significant momentum into the championship race.

“I’d like to think it gives us a lot, but I don’t know–talk is cheap. We’ve got to be able to go out there and perform and just do what we need to do. Being able to do what we did here today was certainly beneficial.

“I didn’t think we were the best car, but we survived, and we did what we needed to do today. It’s just about getting to next week, and once we were locked in, it was ‘All  bets are off, and it’s time to go.’”

Truex didn’t have a contending car, but the reigning series champion did an admirable job avoiding the sort of trouble that dashed the hopes of other championship contenders.

Clint Bowyer exited early, thanks to a flat left rear tire that sent him hard into the Turn 3 wall on Lap 133. Kurt Busch led 52 laps and overcame a one-lap penalty for passing the pace car at the entrance to pit road under caution on Lap 135.

After regaining the lost lap, however, Busch was fighting for the lead after a restart on Lap 269 when the No. 11 Toyota of Denny Hamlin ran him into the outside wall. Busch’s No. 41 Ford bounced off the barrier and collected the No. 9 Chevrolet of Chase Elliott, who had led 16 laps and won the first stage.

Unable to continue, Busch finished 32nd. Elliott lost three laps under repairs and came home 23rd.

With Kurt Busch and Elliott out of contention, Harvick was assured of a Championship 4 berth unless Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola won the race. Almirola lined up second to Kyle Busch for the final restart on Lap 301 but faded to fourth at the finish, and Harvick was in.

“That flat tire, just leading the stage there, coming to the white, and the tire goes flat,” Harvick said of his early issue. “That just put us behind and that was really the turning point in our day, to not have everything go right.

“I mean, we got ourselves back in contention there, and we’re going in the right direction and wound up just finding a spot at the end to just survive there and get to the finish.”

Harvick finished fifth behind Almirola. Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Austin Dillon, William Byron, and Bubba Wallace completed the top 10.

Byron clinched Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors for the series.

“We haven’t had very good runs, to be honest, the whole year, but this run we kind of went a completely different direction with what we were doing and it seemed to pay off, and just kind of had a solid weekend other than qualifying,” Byron said.

“Got some damage there, but we were able to come back, I guess, and finish ninth, so I guess that’s decent, and going to Homestead next week.”

Up-and-down day for Kurt Busch ends in late incident

AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kurt Busch’s roller-coaster ride in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway ended in disaster—and a missed opportunity in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Charging forward from his 14th-place starting position, Busch climbed to fourth by the end of the first 75-lap stage. After a quick pit stop under caution, he was second for a restart on Lap 84 and grabbed the lead from Chase Elliott on the restart lap.

Busch led the next 52 laps before crew chief Billy Scott called him to pit road under caution on Lap 135. As he accelerated off Turn 2 onto pit road, Busch passed the pace car and drew a one-lap penalty, a circuit he didn’t regain until Tanner Berryhill spun to cause the fifth caution on Lap 228.

 

After working his way forward and staying out on older tires, Busch was second for a restart on Lap 269. That’s when his race and his championship hopes came undone.

 

Racing in a knot of cars off Turn 2, Busch was forced wide, and Denny Hamlin knocked Busch’s No. 41 Ford into the outside wall. Bouncing off the barrier, Busch collected the No. 9 Chevrolet of Chase Elliott, who title dreams also ended in the wreck.

 

“Erik Jones was on my inside when we restarted, and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t slip through the new (Turns) 1 and 2,” Busch said after exiting the infield care center. “If I could have been to somebody’s outside off 2, then I thought we had a good shot of maintaining the lead, and I just got cleaned out. I flat out got cleaned out.

 

“If the rule earlier in the race on the pit road of passing the pace car is black and white, I just need to get brushed up on my rule book. I didn’t gain anything by doing what I did other than just digging from behind all day. It was a really good year for our Haas Automation Ford. Thanks to Monster Energy and everybody that put their talent into that 41 car. I just didn’t get the job done to get us to Homestead.”

 

WRECK ENDS PROMISING RUN AT PHOENIX FOR CHASE ELLIOTT

 

Chase Elliott blamed himself—not for the wreck that cost him a chance to run for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.

 

No, Elliott took responsibility for the Lap 230 speeding penalty that mired him in traffic and put his No. 9 Chevrolet in harm’s way. When Denny Hamlin ran Kurt Busch into the outside wall after a restart on Lap 269, Elliott caught Busch’s No. 41 Ford on the rebound and sustained enough damage to lose three laps and a title shot.

 

“Yeah, don’t speed before that and you don’t get caught back there in the back,” said Elliott, who earlier had won the first stage of the race. “It was completely my fault, and when you make mistakes like that, you get put behind, and that’s when you get wrecked.

 

“So, I had a pretty good NAPA Chevy, especially on the long runs. We could run with those guys. I couldn’t get going quite as good as I wanted to. But if you stay away from that penalty, you never know. I hate it, but we’ll try to get a win next week.”

 

Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway was part of learning experience for the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, who had a breakout year with three race victories this season. But Elliott couldn’t match the Playoff point totals of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., all of whom had margins for error entering each round of the Playoffs.

 

“You just have to make the most of opportunities,” Elliott said. “The whole year counts. Those guys, winning a lot of races throughout the season, is what kept them away from a pressure-filled situation. All the bonus points they built up pretty much got them to Homestead, and that’s the way that stepping stone is meant to work. It pays to win. So we’ll try to win more next year.”

 

ARIC ALMIROLA MAKES VALIANT RUN AT GAME-CHANGING VICTORY

 

Aric Almirola was close enough to taste the victory that would have assured him of a Championship 4 berth and knocked Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick out of the final four.

 

With 12 laps left in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway, Almirola’s No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford lined up beside race leader Kyle Busch for a restart with 12 laps left. But Busch got the jump on the restart, and Almirola faded to fourth behind runner-up Brad Keselowski and third-place Kyle Larson.

 

“I thought we were a seventh-to sixth-place car, and that’s what I thought we were yesterday (in practice), too,” Almirola said on pit road, after getting a consoling hug from team owner Tony Stewart. (Crew chief) Johnny (Klausmeier) and all these guys fought their guts out, and I fought my guts out inside the race car and gave it everything we had. We took a seventh or eighth-place car and the next thing you know we were in position to win the race.

 

“I’m just really thankful for this group and these guys on the Smithfield team are awesome. This is our first year working together. You look at all the teams we’re racing and they’ve got four, five, six, seven years working together, so what we’ve accomplished in one year is a hell of a lot.

 

“But right now all I can think about is being inside of Kyle down there in the new (Turns) 1 and 2 and just not being able to get the power down to get up beside him. It’s bittersweet. It was a good day for us, but today we needed to win—and we didn’t win.”

After a quick pit stop under caution, he was second for a restart on Lap 84 and grabbed the lead from Chase Elliott on the restart lap.

Busch led the next 52 laps before crew chief Billy Scott called him to pit road under caution on Lap 135. As he accelerated off Turn 2 onto pit road, Busch passed the pace car and drew a one-lap penalty, a circuit he didn’t regain until Tanner Berryhill spun to cause the fifth caution on Lap 228.

After working his way forward and staying out on older tires, Busch was second for a restart on Lap 269. That’s when his race and his championship hopes came undone.

Racing in a knot of cars off Turn 2, Busch was forced wide, and Denny Hamlin knocked Busch’s No. 41 Ford into the outside wall. Bouncing off the barrier, Busch collected the No. 9 Chevrolet of Chase Elliott, who title dreams also ended in the wreck.

“Erik Jones was on my inside when we restarted, and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t slip through the new (Turns) 1 and 2,” Busch said after exiting the infield care center. “If I could have been to somebody’s outside off 2, then I thought we had a good shot of maintaining the lead, and I just got cleaned out. I flat out got cleaned out.

“If the rule earlier in the race on the pit road of passing the pace car is black and white, I just need to get brushed up on my rule book. I didn’t gain anything by doing what I did other than just digging from behind all day. It was a really good year for our Haas Automation Ford. Thanks to Monster Energy and everybody that put their talent into that 41 car. I just didn’t get the job done to get us to Homestead.”

 

Wreck ends promising run for Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott blamed himself—not for the wreck that cost him a chance to run for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title.

No, Elliott took responsibility for the Lap 230 speeding penalty that mired him in traffic and put his No. 9 Chevrolet in harm’s way. When Denny Hamlin ran Kurt Busch into the outside wall after a restart on Lap 269, Elliott caught Busch’s No. 41 Ford on the rebound and sustained enough damage to lose three laps and a title shot.

“Yeah, don’t speed before that and you don’t get caught back there in the back,” said Elliott, who earlier had won the first stage of the race. “It was completely my fault, and when you make mistakes like that, you get put behind, and that’s when you get wrecked.

“So, I had a pretty good NAPA Chevy, especially on the long runs. We could run with those guys. I couldn’t get going quite as good as I wanted to. But if you stay away from that penalty, you never know. I hate it, but we’ll try to get a win next week.”

Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway was part of learning experience for the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, who had a breakout year with three race victories this season. But Elliott couldn’t match the Playoff point totals of Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., all of whom had margins for error entering each round of the Playoffs.

“You just have to make the most of opportunities,” Elliott said. “The whole year counts. Those guys, winning a lot of races throughout the season, is what kept them away from a pressure-filled situation. All the bonus points they built up pretty much got them to Homestead, and that’s the way that stepping stone is meant to work. It pays to win. So we’ll try to win more next year.”

Christopher Bell wins all-or-nothing race to clinch Xfinity 

championship berth

PHOENIX, AZ – NOVEMBER 10: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 GameStop Just Cause 4 Toyota, poses with the winner’s decal on his car in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Whelen Trusted To Perform 200 at ISM Raceway on November 10, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

AVONDALE, Ariz. – In a Playoff round that has been feast or famine for Christopher Bell, the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry gorged to his heart’s content on Saturday at ISM Raceway.

Starting from 38th, Bell roared through the field to win the Whelen Trusted To Perform 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series race and advance to the Nov. 17 season championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Faced with a must-win situation entering the Round of 8 elimination race, Bell did exactly that. By the end of Stage 1, he had cracked the top 10. At the end of Stage 2, he was fourth. And on Lap 108 of 200, he took the lead under green for the first time, forcing his way past pole winner John Hunter Nemechek for the top spot.

The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender never trailed after that, winning for the seventh time this season, the first time at Phoenix and the eighth time in his career. In a Playoff format in which victory provides redemption for a multitude of ills, Bell rallied from first-lap crashes at both Kansas and Texas to earn his spot in the final four.

“I’ll be honest, after Kansas and Texas, I just kind of accepted that we weren’t going to be able to get there,” Bell said. “I just came over here with a ‘Let’s have fun attitude.’ To start in the back, we didn’t really make our way up front that fast. I kind of got stalled out once I got into the top 15.

“I knew this thing was really fast, because (on Friday) in practice, it was really good… I’m just thankful for my team. They brought probably the best car we’ve had all year here this weekend. It’s a pleasure to drive ‘em, and a race car driver is only as good as his race car. This thing was unbelievably fast.”

Bell joined Texas winner Cole Custer in the Championship 4 Round, along with Saturday’s runner-up Daniel Hemric and sixth-place finisher Tyler Reddick, both of whom advanced on points.

Matt Tifft ran third but fell short in the Playoffs, as did regular-season champion Justin Allgaier, who won the first and second stages but sustained heavy damage to the right front of the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet when Nemechek slid sideways across the track on Lap 145 and clobbered Allgaier’s car.

Allgaier later lost his brakes before finishing 24th.

“It’s extremely disappointing,” said Allgaier, who lost seven spots on pit road after sliding into his stall under caution on Lap 139. “But we did everything we could in the first two stages. We had a really fast Brandt Camaro. We had a lot of trouble today, seeing our pit stall. It was really difficult to see where we were at and navigate that. I lost us some spots on pit road.

“Ultimately, that put ourselves in a bad position. Got some damage, and we lost the brakes there at the end. At that point it was just about survival, finishing the race and getting as many points as we could gain.”

Likewise, veteran Elliott Sadler left Phoenix disappointed after early contact with the No. 40 Toyota of Chad Finchum cost him track position he could never regain. Sadler finished 11th and failed to advance to Homestead in his final year as a full-time NASCAR driver.

“I made too many mistakes today to give my guys an opportunity,” Sadler said. “It’s all on me. My guys work too hard and deserve to be a part of this Championship 4 at Homestead, but I just didn’t pull my part through.

“It’s going to be an emotional week. I have one race left, and my wife and kids are coming to Homestead, and we’ll make the most of it, but it’s definitely going to be hard to look my guys in the eye, knowing we’re not part of the championship.”

Austin Cindric, whose only path to the Championship 4 was to win at ISM, finished fourth. Ryan Preece and Brandon Jones were fifth and seventh, respectively, with Custer finishing eighth. Nemechek and Spencer Gallagher completed the top 10.

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