The Round of 16 came to a close on Sunday at the Monster Mile: Dover International Speedway. After three races, this meant four drivers’ championship hopes would come to an end for the season. Although locked in, Kyle Busch was keen on adding another win to his 2017 season, and did so in wild fashion as he snatched victory from Chase Elliott late in the race.
Entering the third race of the playoffs, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. sat on the cut-off line for the next round in 12th, tied with Austin Dillon for the position (though Stenhouse held the tiebreaker courtesy of a stronger Round finish of 15th at Loudon compared to Dillon’s 16th at Chicagoland). Ryan Newman trailed the two by one point, while Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne were 15th and 16th, respectively.
Martin Truex Jr. won the pole for the race and started alongside Kyle Busch. Truex was quick to assert his dominance, maintaining a one-second lead by lap five. However, Kyle Larson – who started 3rd – caught up to the #78 by lap 22, passing him on the frontstretch on lap 25. Truex retook the position on lap 61.
On lap 82, Kahne began the series of green flag pit stops. Truex, Newman, and Ryan Blaney followed a lap later, with Dillon, Jamie McMurray, and Jimmie Johnson doing so on lap 85. As stops continued, Jeffrey Earnhardt spun as he came onto pit road and hit the sand barrels at the entrance, spilling sand onto the surface. This sparked a red flag situation as all but five cars (who had not pitted) went a lap down. After a 15-minute delay, the red flag was changed to yellow, while Ky. Busch, Brad Keselowski, Stenhouse, Danica Patrick, and David Ragan comprised the top five.
The green flag waved on lap 93 as Keselowski led the remainder of the stage to win. Behind him were Ky. Busch, Stenhouse, Patrick, Larson, Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Ragan, and Denny Hamlin. Busch would win the race off pit road to start Stage #2 on the front row alongside Truex, while Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth was penalized for speeding. Stage #2 began on lap 127, with Busch leading the first 14 laps before Larson passed him. Truex passed Busch for 2nd on lap 151 as Larson extended his lead to 1.8 seconds. A caution came out on lap 167 for Reed Sorenson’s smoking car.
Truex led the field to green alongside Larson on lap 172, the latter claiming 1st three laps later. On lap 219, Harvick reported a vibration for a loose wheel, prompting him to duck onto pit road and falling two laps down. Now on fresher tires, he was able to pass Larson once to unlap himself. Larson went on to win his fourth stage of the season, with Truex, Elliott, Ky. Busch, Johnson, Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski, McMurray, and Clint Bowyer behind him.
Larson won the race off pit road, but restarted 5th after his engine failed to re-fire upon shutting it off to save fuel. As a result, Elliott and Truex were the leaders for the start of Stage #3 on lap 249. Elliott quickly pulled away from his opposition; he would lead a race-high 137 laps. On lap 319, Kahne once again began green flag stops, with Hendrick teammate Elliott doing so six laps later. This gave the lead to Ky. Busch, who led until he pitted on lap 330; Johnson assumed the lead for the first time since Daytona’s Coke Zero 400 in July. On lap 332, Ku. Busch missed the commitment line while trying to enter pit road, leading to a penalty.
After the cycle of stops, Elliott found himself in the lead and in prime position to win his first career Cup race. However, Ky. Busch had other plans, passing Truex for 2nd on lap 353 and began closing in on the leader. Lapped traffic played a major factor as Elliott and Busch fought their ways around; in particular, Elliott struggled to pass Newman. With two laps to go, Busch made his move on Elliott to take the victory.
A dejected Elliott was forced to settle for 2nd, with 3rd-placed teammate Johnson visiting him after the race to console him. Truex finished 4th, followed by Larson, Bowyer, Earnhardt, Daniel Suárez, McMurray, and Keselowski. Newman (13th), Kahne (14th), Dillon (16th), and Ku. Busch (20th) were eliminated from playoff contention. After the race, Newman confronted Jeff Gordon, Elliott’s predecessor in the #24 who had sarcastically remarked about Newman’s driving late in the race.
“You don’t think I was racing for my own position,” Newman told Gordon. “Just watch what you say, man. You said it as a smartass.”
The win is Busch’s 41st in the Cup Series and first at Dover since the spring race in 2010.
“That was hard-fought,” Busch stated. “That was everything I had. Obviously, I was trying to get there, and got stuck there for a few laps, wasn’t sure whether I was gonna make it all the way, and then I was like, ‘You know what? I gotta try the top (line) again, the top had been working,’ and it kinda got me there. I got up there, got to the top, and got by him. Got the momentum on the straightaways, and that carried me by the 24.”
Next week, the Round of 12 begins in Charlotte with the Bank of America 500.
Featured image by Jared Tilton, Getty Images