Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
Denied victory at Daytona by an inopportune pit call last Sunday, Kurt Busch drove like lightning in a two-lap overtime dash to the finish to win Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
Swapping sheet metal with brother Kyle Busch as the siblings battled for the victory throughout the overtime, Busch collected his first victory of the season in the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. The 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion won for the first time at Kentucky and the 31st time in his career.
Kurt Busch beat his brother to the finish line by .076 seconds, the closest margin of victory at a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway this season. It was also the first Cup triumph for a Chevrolet at Kentucky, which began hosting races in NASCAR’s premier series in 2011. It was also the first victory for Busch’s crew chief, Matt McCall.
“Hell yeah! Hell yeah!” Busch exulted after climbing from his car on the frontstretch. “I’m proud he (Kyle) gave me a little room on the outside. He could have clobbered us against the wall, and he probably would have got it.”
Busch was running fourth, nine seconds behind then-leader Joey Logano, when Bubba Wallace spun in Turn 2 with six laps left in regulation. Logano, third-place Erik Jones, the Busch brothers and Denny Hamlin stayed out on older tires for the overtime, with Kurt Busch having fresher rubber on his left side, thanks to a four-tire pit stop under green on Lap 213 of a scheduled 267.
That caution helped balance the scales of fortune. Last Sunday at Daytona, Busch pitted from the lead when NASCAR gave the one-lap-to-go signal, only to have a lightning bolt within the eight-mile range return the race to caution. After rain hit the track, Justin Haley, who stayed out, got the victory.
The misfortune at Daytona, made Busch relish his Kentucky win all the more.
“What an awesome run,” Busch said. “Whatever last week was, we got the ‘W’ now! That was epic. I was hopeful that we would get a shot, just one more restart. We got that yellow… with my little brother—it’s the best guy in the world to go race against.”
For the first time, Kurt beat his younger brother in a 1-2 finish.
“I’m glad it was a thriller,” Kyle Busch said. “Just unfortunately we were on the wrong end of the deal for everybody at M&M’s and Toyota, Interstate Batteries, all the folks that get us to where we’re at.
“But congratulations to Kurt and Chip and (sponsor) Monster and all the guys over there. It’s obviously cool to put on great races and great finishes, and (I’ve) been a part of a lot of them and not very many—in fact none with my brother like that, so that was a first. No hard feelings, and we move on.”
In a one-year deal with Ganassi, Kurt Busch has been weighing his future in the sport. Saturday’s win may influence his decision.
“I thought this year might be my last, but we’re having so much fun, we’ll have to see how things go,” he said.
Jones finished third, followed by Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson, who pitted for tires before the overtime. Hamlin held fifth, putting three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in the top five.
Clint Bowyer, Logano, polesitter Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman and Chris Buescher completed the top 10.
Late caution erases winning chances for Joey Logano
When Bubba Wallace spun in Turn 2 with six laps left in Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, it changed the course of the entire race.
For one thing, it bunched the field for an overtime restart that put brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch center-stage for a breathtaking finish, with Kurt taking the checkered flag .076 seconds ahead of his younger sibling.
For another, it treated the fans in the grandstands to the most electrifying finish of the season.
But one person who wasn’t thrilled was Team Penske driver Joey Logano, who had a comfortable lead over Kyle Busch and seemed bound for Victory lane when Wallace spun to cause the seventh caution of the evening.
The race went to overtime, and on the restart, and Logano got sandwiched between drivers and dropped to seventh at the finish.
“The caution came out at the wrong time,” Logano said. “It happens. You try to think through your notebook on how to have a good restart. I thought I was going to have a decent one, but I got stopped on the left rear there when Kyle (Busch) got into me. That is what it is. That stopped all my momentum.
“The 1 (Kurt Busch) had a huge run (on the outside), and I didn’t have anywhere to go. I couldn’t block them all. I tried to stop the 18 on his right rear by side-drafting. I saw the 1 coming and felt like, if I could get in front of him, that we were so low at the time if I blocked the 1 he would just go to the middle and pass me.
“I felt like I couldn’t stop the 1. I was in a bad spot. Once I got stopped on the left rear on the restart, I was a sitting duck and they just went by me on both sides.”
Logano didn’t win with arguably the fastest car. Nevertheless, he expressed appreciation for the quality of the event.
“Yeah, it was a great race,” Logano said. “It was a lot of fun. You had strategy and cautions, and it was probably the best Kentucky race we have ever had. If I was a race fan, I would say that was a cool finish. I’m a little too close to the fire to say it was a cool finish right now.”
Erik Jones has front-row seat for Busch brothers battle
A quick pit stop for fuel only got Erik Jones the track position he needed late in Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway and put him in the third spot for the overtime restart that decided the race.
Jones watched from his driver’s seat as brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch swapped door-slams over the final two laps. As he watched the battle in front of him, Jones tried to find a path to victory.
“Yeah, I had two choices there going into (Turns) 3 and 4 (on the final lap),” Jones said. “I knew they were probably going to slide up, so I was going to try to run to the bottom and make a run on them, but they didn’t slide up enough, and I was tight and couldn’t quite get the run I needed to.
“But the Craftsman Camry was good. It was fast from the start. We just needed some track position. We needed to get up there and finally did and had a shot. We were just a little too tight at the end. But good day, lots of points, which is what we needed. I’d love to be standing there on the frontstretch where (race winner) Kurt (Busch) is, but we’re close, and we’re just going to keep after it and get there soon.”
The good news is that Jones climbed into 16th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, the last Playoff-eligible position. He is now two points to the good over Ryan Newman.
“Well, it’s good that we’re ahead of it now, and we just need to keep it going,” Jones said. “We built ourselves big deficit through some misfortune and bad luck, and we’re digging out of it now, but we’re doing a good job at it and doing the best we can. Getting back on the good side of is a good start. We just need to keep it rolling and hopefully get a win here soon.”
Cole Custer picks up fifth win with dominating
run at Kentucky
Christopher Bell was dominant in the daytime, but when the sun set over Kentucky Speedway on Friday, Cole Custer turned out the lights on his NASCAR Xfinity Series competition.
Under the lights at the end of a 104-lap green-flag run to the conclusion of the Alsco 300, Custer’s No. 00 Ford crossed the finish line 1.651 seconds ahead of Bell’s No. 20 Toyota. Custer had taken the lead from Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Chase Briscoe on Lap 111 of 200 and held it the rest of the way, save for three laps during a cycle of green-flag pit stops midway through the final run.
Bell charged from fifth to second after a restart on Lap 97 but had nothing for Custer at the end.
“It’s been unbelievable,” said Custer, who won for the first time at Kentucky and the fifth time this season, breaking a tie with Bell for most in the series. “This one just goes to my team. That car was just unbelievable, and they knew exactly what to do with it when the track changed, and I was just lucky to drive it there at the end.”
The victory was the seventh of Custer’s career, it was in doubt only when Custer pitted on Lap 151, three laps after Bell had come to pit road for fuel and tires. In the interim, on fresh rubber, Bell had cut Custer’s lead from three seconds to a half-second, but Bell never got close enough to attempt a righteous pass for the lead.
“I think I was a little too conservative on my green-flag pit stop,” said Custer, who led a race-high 88 laps. “It worked out good. He got closer, and I was definitely sweating a little bit.
“But we had a fast car and were able to pull away at the end.”
After winning the first two stages and leading 72 laps, Bell and his team perhaps got a bit complacent.
“We just kind of got worse there,” Bell said. “My car was driving really good. Probably just got a little to comfortable there, needed to free it up a little bit.
“But our Ruud Supra was really fast. We were able to win two stages, so we got a couple more Playoff points. We’ve just got to work on a couple more things, and we’ll be good.”
Tyler Reddick ran third, albeit 12.808 seconds behind Custer, as the Xfinity Series’ Big Three took all three podium positions. Collectively, Custer, Bell and Reddick have won 12 of the 17 races so far this season.
Michael Annett came home fourth, and Briscoe finished fifth in the No. 98 Ford, the last car on the lead lap. Reddick leads second-place Bell by 67 points in the series standings, after Bell trimmed 10 points off Reddick’s post-Daytona advantage.
Noah Gragson, Justin Allgaier, Ryan Truex, Ryan Sieg and Justin Haley completed the top 10.