Kyle Busch led home title rivals Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., the “Big Three” from the NASCAR Regular Season, in the second race of the Playoffs, the Federated Auto Parts 400.
Busch’s 50th Cup Series victory came from the rear of the field due to unapproved body modifications after he hit the wall in qualifying. From there, progress was somewhat slow, with Busch failing to reach the Top 10 in either of the first two stages.
However his car came to life in the second half of the field, moving through the field before taking the lead for the first time on Lap 287.
A caution on Lap 327, the only on-track caution of the day (Jeffrey Earnhardt hit the wall following contact from Matt Kenseth), threatened to derail Busch’s victory hopes however.
Brad Keselowski, going for a remarkable four wins in a row, had excellent short-run speed, and battled hard with Busch after the restart, taking the lead on Lap 343.
He held Busch off for 20 laps, with the pair, who are known for disliking one another, racing each other extremely hard but cleanly.
Busch eventually retook the lead with under 40 laps to go and held it to the flag, despite a late challenge from Harvick who at one stage got within half a second of the lead.
The 7th win of 2018 for Kyle Busch.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 23, 2018
Truex Jr. was third with arguably the strongest long-run car of the night. The #78 dominated the first two stages, before a pit road penalty meant he had to fight back through the field.
Chase Elliott led during the early stages of Stage 3, but struggled all night with terrible short-run speed, meaning he had to settle for fourth.
Rounding out the top five was Aric Almirola. Almirola’s #10 Ford impressed many by running with the leaders for most of the race, putting himself in a strong position to make the Round of 12.
Another driver who helped consolidate their Playoff hopes was Austin Dillon. A sixth-place finish leaves the #3 Childress Chevrolet 10 points to the good going to the elimination race at the Roval. Dillon will be happy with that considering he was the favourite to be eliminated in this first round.
Kyle Larson was seventh, whilst Jimmie Johnson picked up a much needed best result since June in eighth to keep his hopes of another championship alive.
Rounding out the top 10 were Keselowski, who used up his front tyres battling with Busch, and Clint Bowyer, who bounced back from a terrible first half of the race to only fall a few points below the cut line.
No playoff driver finished lower than 19th, with Ryan Blaney holding that honour of being the lowest scoring championship contender.
This meant that Erik Jones (P11) and Denny Hamlin (P16) didn’t do enough to prevent themselves losing further ground in the standings, leaving both in a potentially must-win situation at the Roval.
Hamlin did well in the first stage to recover to P9 after he was tapped into a half-spin midway through the run by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Sadly that would be his highlight of the race, as both he and Jones struggled to keep up with the track over the 400 laps.
Hamlin SAVES IT.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 22, 2018
Busch’s victory leaves him assured of a place in the next round of the Playoffs, with only Keselowski, Truex Jr. and Harvick also able to relax about their chances.
Testing at the Roval was chaotic and crash-filled and if that’s anything to go by, then we could see some major shocks next Sunday. Tune in at 7pm BST (2pm CET) on NBCSN for the carnage.
|Brad Keselowski (P9)||ADVANCED|
|Kyle Busch (P1)||ADVANCED|
|Martin Truex Jr. (P3)||+85|
|Kevin Harvick (P2)||+57|
|Joey Logano (P14)||+25|
|Aric Almirola (P5)||+23|
|Kyle Larson (P7)||+17|
|Kurt Busch (P18)||+15|
|Chase Elliott (P4)||+10|
|Austin Dillon (P6)||+10|
|Alex Bowman (P12)||+5|
|Ryan Blaney (P19)||+4|
|Clint Bowyer (P10)||-4|
|Jimmie Johnson (P8)||-6|
|Erik Jones (P11)||-21|
|Denny Hamlin (P16)||-29|