NASCAR: Kyle Busch earns a birthday sweep at Kansas

A multitude of cautions led to a two-lap shootout at Kansas, where birthday boy Kyle Busch won his first NASCAR Cup Series race of 2021.

With a name like the Buschy McBusch Race 400, it was only appropriate that one of the Busch brothers earned their first NASCAR Cup Series win at Sunday’s event at Kansas Speedway.

The younger Kyle Busch took the honors on Sunday, celebrating his 36th birthday with the 58th victory of his Cup Series career. Busch also won the Camping World Truck Series event on Saturday night. On the premier Cup level, he survived a wild two-lap shootout brought on by a late multitude of cautions to earn the victory. Kevin Harvick finished second, followed by Brad Keselowski, Matt DiBenedetto, and Chase Elliott.

Busch’s win is involved in several historical marks. He reties Harvick at 58 career Cup Series wins, becoming the 10th driver to reach that tally, and has now won at least one Cup race in each of the last 17 seasons, tying David Pearson for the second-longest such streak of all-time (Richard Petty leads at 18). Busch also becomes the second driver to win multiple races on his birthday, joining Cale Yarborough. A previous celebration came at Richmond in 2009. The victory also came at an emotional time for Busch, as he and his wife Samantha have been open about their struggles with fertility. Samantha did not attend Sunday’s race, encouraged by Kyle to take their five-year-old son Brexton to his own racing event.

The Kansas race ran incident-free for over 200 laps before the course of the event changed during the final cycle of green-flag pit stops. A loose tire from Tyler Reddick’s No. 8 stall landed at the edge of the divide between pit road and the infield. Race officials opted to wait until every car pitted before waving the yellow flag for debris.

That yellow ended the domination of Kyle Larson, who led a race-high 132 laps and held a large lead over Busch when the yellow came out with 37 laps to go. That caution begat three others, as separate incidents removed Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Christopher Bell from contention. Busch took the lead at lap 257 of 267, shortly before a wreck between Bell and Stenhouse also took out Ryan Preece.

Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota began the final restart starting next to Ryan Blaney, who a push from Larson behind him. That shove was a bit too strong, as Blaney got loose, removing them both from victory consideration, and relegating Larson to 19th and Blaney down to 21st. Busch thus drove away for the win, becoming the 10th different driver to win over the 2021 season’s first 11 races. Kansas will host one of the ten playoff races later this fall.

The NASCAR Cup Series will return to action next weekend at Darlington Raceway, as the circuit celebrates its annual “throwback weekend” on Mother’s Day through the Goodyear 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1).

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS – MAY 02: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Mix Toyota, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Buschy McBusch Race 400 at Kansas Speedway on May 02, 2021 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Race Notes

  • William Byron finished ninth, extending his streak of top ten finishes to a series-long nine.

 

  • With his fourth-place finish, DiBenedetto is now the current holder of the final NASCAR Cup Series playoff spot, holding it by 12 points over Kurt Busch.

 

  • Keselowski, the pole sitter, led the first 72 laps after winning last weekend’s race at Talladega.

 

  • Matt Mills made his Cup Series debut in a Ford owned by competitor BJ McLeod, finishing 38th.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Pit road victory allows Joey Logano to advance to NASCAR’s final four

Joey Logano’s well-timed pit stop allowed him to beat out Kevin Harvick at Kansas, making him eligible for the NASCAR Cup Series title.

Joey Logano and his No. 22 Team Penske Ford team showed exactly why NASCAR is a team sport at Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

A caution session with 45 circuits left in the 267-lap event saw Logano’s crew provide the fastest service. He beat out incoming leader Kevin Harvick off pit lane, as well as the final 41 green flag circuits to earn a victory that clinched his spot among the four championship contenders at Phoenix Raceway on November 8.

Logano’s win at Kansas is his third of the season and his first since taking two of the first four races held prior to a COVID-19-induced pause in March…his last win ironically coming at Phoenix. With the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs entering its three-race Round of 8, Logano earned automatic entry to the finale as the Connecticut native seeks his second title over the last three seasons.

If I’m being honest, I don’t have fun driving a race car, I have fun winning,” Logano said after the race. “That’s what I enjoy doing. That’s what that is at this point. If I want to go fun, I’ll go to a go-kart track and have fun. That’s not what this is about. This is about winning, this is a job, putting food on the table for not only my family but countless others that helped this race team.”

En route to his first Cup Series title in 2018, Logano also won the first race of the Round of 8, then held at Martinsville Speedway (which will host the final contest of the round this time). The importance of such a victory was not lost on the 30-year-old.

The weight lifted off your shoulders is only part of it. The ability to start working on your Phoenix car, not worry about your Texas and Martinsville car,” he said. “I don’t want to say that, but you’re 100% focused on one more race.  We know we can’t finish worse than fourth in points, you know what I mean? We know we’re in it.”

Logano mostly lingered in the middle portions of the field in the early going, watching Chase Elliott and Denny Hamling win the first two 80-lap stages. After the second stage, Logano and Aric Almirola gambled by taking two tires on the ensuing pit stops. While Almirola (a former playoff driver eliminated after the Round of 12) faded, Logano was set up to run with the leaders. By the time Tyler Reddick brought out the caution by scraping the wall at lap 221, it was clear that Logano and Harvick had the vehicles to beat.

The No. 22 team helped Logano win the fateful race off of pit road before he held off a furious challenge from Harvick over the final segments for the win. Some fans took issue with the current rules package, claiming that it allowed Harvick to catch up to Logano but not take the lead. Logano instead credited his choice of lanes in the final turns around the 1.5-mile tri-oval, as well as the assistance of spotter TJ Majors.

“When you have clean air in front of you, like Kevin did as well, being so close to the lead, the advantage probably goes to the trimmed car, which is what the 4 has.  At that point you just kind of hope for dirty air and tires to wear out a little bit.  That’s where our car should start to excel,” Logano explained. “So, knowing that in your mind, you try to hold him off for as long as you can. If you can hold off 15 laps or so, maybe it would get a little easier. It didn’t. He hung on there for a long time, was catching me so fast on the straightaways. It was a matter of picking the right lanes when you get there.”

Harvick was denied his 10th win of the season, a mark unattained since Jimmie Johnson pulled off the feat in 2007, but praised Logano for his work over the final laps. He’s currently up 41 points on the championship cutoff.

“Joey did just a good job of putting his car right in front of ours,” Harvick said. With this package, every time you put your car in front of the car behind you, it takes the nose away.  We just had a little bit of trouble trying to get the nose to turn when he would take our lane.”

Alex Bowman joined the main duo late to finish third, while Logano’s Penske teammate Brad Keselowski came home fourth. Non-playoff driver Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. Keselowski is currently the last driver in when looking at the final four picture, up on Elliott (6th), Sunday’s polesitter by eight points. Elliott would be on via points, but was shifted to the outside looking in by Logano’s victory.

The Round of 8 reaches its middle stage next Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • Elliott recovered to finish sixth after radio problems plagued him in the early stages of the race.

 

  • After winning the second stage, Hamlin made contact with the wall, forcing him to pit road. He eventually recovered to a 15th-place finish and currently holds one of the championship spots by 20 points.

 

  • Prior to the race, the small, socially distanced crowd paid tribute to Kansas native Clint Bowyer, the retiring driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Bowyer, winner of 10 Cup Series races and the 2008 Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series title, moved to the front of the field before the green flag flew. Bowyer finished 26th, capping off his Kansas ledger with three top-five and eight top-ten finishes in 25 starts at his home track.

 

  • Playoff driver Kurt Busch’s title chances took a major hit when he lost his engine at lap 198. At 73 points behind the cutoff, Busch more than likely will need to win of the two remaining pre-Phoenix races at Texas or Martinsville to contend for a championship.

 

  • Bowyer’s fellow retiree Matt Kenseth also endured a tough day, bringing out the caution with a wreck at lap 144.

For full results, click here

For full standings, click here

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Chase Elliott prepares for a fateful Round of 8

Chase Elliott has accomplished a lot in his NASCAR career, but the next three races could help him take a career-changing step forward.

Chase Elliott wore a hat while speaking with the media on Thursday afternoon. That’s obviously not out of the ordinary when it comes to NASCAR driver availability, but Elliott’s headwear bore not one of his sponsors, but rather the curvy “A” of MLB’s Atlanta Braves. It makes all the sense in the world, considering his Dawsonville, Georgia roots.

“I enjoy watching the sport. Obviously, I’m a Braves fan and they have a game today, and that’s why I’m wearing the hat,” Elliott said with a smile about his hat. He jokingly tried to connect the hat to a sponsor that regularly graces his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. “To be honest with you, I forgot I had this media availability today…but I’m sponsored by NAPA.”

The Braves would go on to top the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-2 in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, giving them a 3-1 series lead. Elliott and his Braves are in remarkably similar situations…with one more win over three opportunities, they can each earn a chance to play for their respective sport’s ultimate prize.

Bolstered by young talent, both the Braves and the No. 9 team have accomplished much in their respective fields. Atlanta has taken home each of the last three NL East division titles, and Elliott has reached the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in all five of his full-time season. But the final hurdle has proved difficult. One more win for the Braves would send them to their first World Series since 1999. Elliott, meanwhile, is battling to escape from the Round of 8.

The No. 9 is one of eight vehicles left in contention for the 2020 Cup Series title. A 16-driver playoff field has been split in half in time for the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC). The next three races will determine the four-driver championship field at Phoenix Raceway. Playoff drivers who win one of the next three races get an automatic invite to the title push in the desert.

Elliot, the son of 1988 Cup Series champion Bill, has been in a must-win situation at Phoenix on three occasions…when Phoenix hosted the penultimate race of the year and served as the Round of 8’s finale. Heartbreak has followed each time. In 2017, he was passed for the lead by Matt Kenseth with 10 laps to go, denying him the automatic championship entry. Last season saw him wreck in the early stages. Bad luck, often in the form of wrecks beyond his control, forced him into such dire set-ups. Elliott would be the last driver in contention at Phoenix if the Round of 8 was skipped over, but he’s only five points ahead of fifth-place Joey Logano.

He’s not going to let Round of 8 yips of the past affect his approach in 2020.

“For us, we’re not going to try to reinvent the wheel. That’s number one,” he said. “I think another thing that we don’t want to do is to get too far off the beaten path. I feel like, for us, when we’ve been at our best and as a team, myself included, performing at the level that we’re all capable of doing, I feel like we’ve contended with the best of the series this year, in my personal opinion. And, I think we’re capable of doing that again. So, from my situation, I’m just trying to sit back and trying to do exactly that; and trying to perform at the level I know we can.”

By this point, labeling Elliott’s success as the product of nepotism is foolhardy. Elliott has nine wins over the past three seasons and has established himself as NASCAR’s new king of road courses. Last Sunday’s win at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval” (half-oval, half-road course) was his fourth straight on such set-ups. Only series legend Jeff Gordon has eclipsed that mark (6). Further accolades include the most recent All-Star Race and the 2014 Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series title…two before he took over Hendrick’s No. 24 for a retiring Gordon.

Since having switched to the No. 9, a nod to his father’s glory days with Melling Racing, Elliott has seemed to earn everything but a Cup Series title, one that can truly make him a face of NASCAR, one nearing a new generation with a new vehicle template and schedule on the road ahead.

But Elliott’s mind isn’t meandering on any sort of validation…he’ll worry about that if and when his championship moment comes.

“When you’re on the hunt for one or you’ve never done it before, I’m not sure I’m thinking about the validation it’s going to give me on the backside,” he said. “I think I’m really just thinking about that being the goal and that being what I want to achieve and being that next step or the next thing that our team wants to go and have a shot at trying to make the final four.”

“I feel like that’s something you kind of reflect on after you do something like that. I’m not sure you really know what it feels like or what validation it might give you internally unless you’ve achieved it; which I obviously have not.”

“Personally, and as a team, there’s nothing anybody outside of myself or my team is going to say to me to make we want to win a championship more.”

Elliott will start on the pole for Sunday’s race at Kansas. He finished 12th during the last visit to the 1.5-mile tri-oval in the summer, but he won the fall event in 2018.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags