Kyle Busch came into New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s ISM Connect 300 with something to prove—that his pit crew blunders won’t keep him down. And he rose to the occasion.
Busch and his No. 18 M&M’s Caramel Toyota Camry team found Victory Lane for the third time this season after leading 187 of the 300 laps around “The Magic Mile.” In doing so, he clinched his spot into the Round of 12 beginning in two weeks and showed the field that a couple errors from his new pit crew won’t keep him out of the winner’s circle.
Cole Trickle? More like Rowdy Burns.
Yeah, we had a “Days of Thunder” reference from our race winner, Kyle Busch, following his dominating victory in the ISM Connect 300. He had to squeeze by a wreck on lap 150 without being able to see anything in front of him. But he carefully emerged without a scratch.
“That was pretty intense,” Busch said of the wreck he avoided midway through the race to NBCSN. “That was some ‘Days of Thunder’ stuff over there. You couldn’t see anything. It was just a wall of smoke over there off Turn 2. I was listening to my spotter and basically was told to stop, and I was like ‘Sounds like a good idea’. I just checked up as much as I could. Of course, I was trying not to get run into from behind.”
Busch crossed the finish line 2.641 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Kyle Larson for the 41st win in his MENCS career. There were no pit road blunders, no moments of drama and no declarations. Just a man who asserted himself as the No. 1 championship challenger.
“But all in all, just a great day,” Busch continued following his third career win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “We ran up front all day long, we executed, we did what we were supposed to do, and it’s awesome to win here in the Granite State in front of these fans.”
Following the Las Vegas native across the finish line was Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr completing the top five. Rounding out the top 10 were Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano.
Playoff contenders Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray finished in positions 11 through 16, with Austin Dillon coming home 19th and Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch finishing 35th through 37th (accidents).
As has been the theme for the second half of the season, and especially these last two weeks thanks to Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch’s Twitter feud, Sunday was all about the Toyotas.
They led all but one lap in the ISM Connect 300, as Kyle Busch’s 187 circuits and Martin Truex Jr.’s 112 laps led left only one, which Kyle Larson led. Point remains: Toyota is the team to beat, and they will be throughout the rest of the 2017 NASCAR postseason. This win was the Japanese manufacturer’s 10th of the season and eighth of the last 11 races in the MENCS.
Is this the biggest manufacturer advantage since the 1970’s? Probably not (shoutout Brad), but they absolutely have the upper hand. They placed five drivers in the top 10 and had more than that for most of the event. Point remains: Toyota is the team to beat, and they will be throughout the rest of the 2017 NASCAR postseason barring an unforeseen drastic change.
LARSON THE BRIDESMAID … AGAIN
Kyle Larson ran inside the top 10 all day, but wound up in a familiar place when the 300-lap, 317.4-mile affair included—second place.
“I kind of ran around third to fifth all race long,” Larson told NBCSN after leading one lap all afternoon. “I felt like I wasn’t great on short runs, but I was really good on long runs, which was kind of opposite of practice. I was kind of happy about that.
“Got a good restart there at the end, got to second, and kept my pace up with Kyle a little bit there. But he could just get pointed a little bit better than me and get the throttle down where I would spin my tires a little bit. Too loose there on the short run, but if we could have had a long run, maybe who knows?”
The result was the Elk Grove, Ca. native’s eighth second-place finish of the season, to go along with his three victories. Larson’s 2017 is reminiscent of Kevin Harvick’s 2015, when he earned a whopping 13 runner-up finishes. Larson can amass as many P2’s as he wants on his way to Homestead-Miami Speedway. But if he gets there, he’ll most likely need to win.
TALLADEGA AT LOUDON
On lap 150, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway backstretch turned into a parking lot.
Playoff contender Kevin Harvick was getting passed by Austin Dillon coming off turn two, but the two made contact and the No. 4 was sent spinning. In doing so, a plume of smoke billowed from his car, making visibility impossible. Cars tried to slow, but did so unsuccessfully.
His Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Kurt Busch, tried to woe his No. 41 down, but would up t-boning Harvick’s left side door due to the amount of speed he was carrying. Jeffrey Earnhardt also received damage and was unable to continue for the rest of the race with the SHR duo.
But that wasn’t the end of the close calls and damaged race cars from that incident. Martin Truex Jr., who was leading the race at the time, with two laps remaining in the second stage, slowed down to miss the wreck, but sustained minor left rear quarter panel damage when he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both backed up to leave the wreckage—but they did so into each other.
The race winner, Kyle Busch, narrowly avoided the wreck. He, Matt Kenseth and a handful of other contenders squeezed by on the outside while Harvick and Kurt Busch’s cars were stuck together. Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good in racing.
The current playoff standings have Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon below the cut-line. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. currently holds the tiebreaker over Dillon in the 12th and final spot going into the final race of the Round of 16.
Kahne, who fell out of New Hampshire due to a mechanical failure in his first race with newly appointed crew chief Darian Grubb, trails by 21 points, with Kurt Busch trailing by 17, Newman trailing by one and Dillon trailing by zero, as he is tied with the No. 17 of Stenhouse Jr.
Jamie McMurray has a nine-point cushion, Kevin Harvick has a 25-point cushion and Chase Elliott is clear by 26, as well as Ryan Blaney. Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski have clinched spots in the next round based on points. Everyone else, for the most part, is sitting relatively pretty heading into next weekend. But all it takes is one surprise or mistake … just one.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Dover International Speedway next weekend for the Apache Warrior 400 on Sunday afternoon from “The Monster Mile.” It will be the final race of the Round of 16, and four drivers will be eliminated from title contention when 400 miles around the concrete track conclude. Television coverage will be on NBCSN at 2 p.m. ET.