KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It took a roller-coaster day to make it possible, but Kyle Busch rallied from below the elimination line to move on in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs thanks to his performance in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Busch entered Sunday’s race nine points back from eighth in the standings, but thanks to a costly engine failure on Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet and a haul of stage points, Busch was able to leap ahead and remain in contention for his second Cup championship.
The Round of 12 had been no friend to Busch, with finishes of 29th (Charlotte) and 27th (Talladgea) in the first two races thanks to a myriad of bad luck and several crashes, but starting seventh in the field on Sunday he hoped to turn some of that bad luck around.
The M&Ms Toyota Camry wasted little time making moves to the front, and by lap 36 he had assumed the lead thanks to a restart violation from Martin Truex Jr., as the polesitter changed lanes before the start-finish line and had to serve a pass-through penalty as a result.
From there, Busch never looked back en route to claiming the opening stage win and adding 10 bonus points to his hopes of moving on towards Martinsville.
Though the end of the second stage came down to pit strategy and a one-lap shootout between old rubber and fresh tires, Busch secured a fifth-place stage finish and added even more padding to his playoff hopes.
With visions of victory dancing in his head, Busch was the leader during the second-to-last restart of the day at lap 205, but was ultimately passed by eventual race winner Truex before making his final pit stop on lap 230.
Soon after, a spinning A.J. Allmendinger brought out the day’s final caution flag with 32 to go, pinning Busch a lap down and forcing him to take the wave-around to get back on the lead lap. At that point, he was running 22nd and only one point ahead of Larson, despite Larson’s early exit from the engine failure.
But Busch was a man on a mission, passing 12 cars over the final 25 laps run to ultimately finish 10th, advancing and allowing him to breathe a sigh of relief after a round which arguably shouldn’t have been enough for him to continue in the playoffs.
“Making it was goal number one,” said Busch. “I wouldn’t have thought a 29th, 27th, and a 10th (place finish) would’ve made it, but you know … obviously a lot of other drivers had to have trouble for that to happen. I hate it for those guys, because we would’ve liked to have raced for it straight up, you know? But I thought we had a great race car today and things worked out in our favor.”
Pit strategy and tire wear were the name of the game Sunday, and Busch admittedly struggled with both, though some of it wasn’t of his own making.
“We had a shot to win the thing … we just got off on pit strategy there for a little bit. When we finally had to pit, and then the caution came out … that just bit us.”
The good news for Busch? He catapults from near the bottom of the playoff standings right back into contention.
After the reset for the start of the third round, Busch becomes the second seed, sitting 27 markers back of Truex with 4,042 points and carrying a 25-point buffer over the cut line heading into Martinsville Speedway next Sunday.
“We live to see another day here; that’s the biggest thing for this team,” said Busch. “We’ll fight again next week going to Martinsville.”
About the Writer
Chris Murdock is an aspiring journalist and an avid racing fan, currently serving as a Midwest and NASCAR correspondent for Race Chaser Online. Murdock is in his final semester at Ohio University, finishing a degree in Broadcast Television.
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