Kyle Busch clears the smoke, wins ISM Connect 300

Since 1997, New Hampshire Motor Speedway has hosted two dates on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule. After 20 seasons, the second date will be a thing of the past as the 2017 ISM Connect 300 marks the final fall race at the track before the date is replaced by Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In the end, Las Vegas native Kyle Busch had a masterful performance en route to victory in the second race of the playoffs.

Entering the weekend, drama was aplenty following the encumbering of Chase Elliott’s 2nd-place finish at last Sunday’s Chicagoland race. After the race, Elliott’s crew members removed tape from the #24’s spoiler. The act was spotted by fans on the /r/NASCAR subreddit, who pointed out the tape could add as much as 50 pounds of downforce to the car and would improve lap times. Elliott was penalized 15 points and crew chief Alan Gustafson was suspended for three races, the former causing him to drop from 6th to 8th in the points standings. In response to the incident, NASCAR prohibited crewmen from going over the wall following the conclusion of the race until permission is given.

Busch had a strong start to the Loudon weekend as he won his eighth pole of the season. Starting alongside fellow Kyle in Kyle Larson, Busch would lead the first 39 laps before Martin Truex Jr. took the lead on lap 40. The points leader went on to win his 19th stage of the season. Behind him were Larson, Busch, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick. During pit stops, Daniel Suárez was penalized for speeding in pit road and fell to 23rd for the restart on lap 83.

The second stage proved to be relatively uneventful as Truex nearly led flag-to-flag with no cautions until the final lap. On lap 151, Harvick got loose while racing Austin Dillon off turn two, spinning him as he produced a cloud of smoke. Kurt Busch smashed into his Stewart-Haas teammate, while Jeffrey and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Truex were also collected. Busch was able to escape the carnage to win the stage, with Kenseth, Keselowski, Jones, Larson, Truex, Johnson, Hamlin, Blaney, and Jamie McMurray following. The pile-up resulted in a 12-minute red flag despite the end of the stage, meaning cars had to sit on the track until conditions resumed to yellow.

Ky. Busch and Kenseth led the field to the green on lap 160, but a slow restart for the latter’s inside line allowed Busch and Jones to take off. On lap 220, a caution for debris came out, with Busch leading the race off pit road, Larson gaining two spots, and Kenseth dropping to 4th. The green flag waved a lap later, though racing was short-lived as Kasey Kahne stopped in turn four. While he was able to refire his car, he would finish 35th. Truex took two tires on the ensuing stop and jumped six spots for the restart with 33 to go, starting on the front row alongside Busch. Once again, it did not take long for another caution to come out as David Ragan spun on the lap.

Green flag racing resumed five laps later, albeit for only a short time as Trevor Bayne spun and hit the wall as he exited turn two. This led to another restart on lap 278. A strong restart on the outside line by Busch and Larson allowed the two Kyles to pull ahead. Larson was unable to provide a challenge for the dominant Busch, who would win his third race of the season and third at Loudon. Playoff drivers filled out the top five as Larson, Kenseth, Keselowski, and Truex finished 2nd through 5th, respectively. Jones finished 6th, followed by Clint Bowyer, Suárez, Blaney, and Joey Logano. More playoff drivers finished in the 11th to 20th range, with the top six spots in that region being said drivers. Dillon, Kahne, Harvick, and Ku. Busch were the only playoff drivers to finish outside the top 20.

With their finishes, Larson and Keselowski locked themselves into the Round of 12, joining race winners Truex and Busch. This leaves only eight spots up for grabs; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. currently holds the edge above the cutoff line in 12th, with Dillon, Ryan Newman, Ku. Busch, and Kahne looking in.

Busch described the Stage #2 wreck as “pretty intense. That was some Days of Thunder stuff there, you couldn’t see anything. It was just a wall of smoke over there off of turn 2, but I listened to the spotter, was basically told to stop. Sounds like a good idea and just checked up as much as I could.”

“All in all, just a great day.”

Next week, the Cup Series travels to Dover International Speedway for the Apache Warrior 400. Truex is the defending race winner, while Johnson is the most recent winner at the Monster Mile.

Race results (by Racing-Reference)

2017 ISM Connect 300 results

Featured image from @NASCARonNBC

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