Kyle Busch Wins Phoenix as the Final Four is Determinded
AVONDALE, AZ – RIS – In a wild final elimination race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Kyle Busch won for the eighth time this season to tie Kevin Harvick for the most Cup victories and possibly set up a head-to-head battle for the championship. The road to get to the championship race was not easy for Busch or the other four who qualified.
Busch’s victory at ISM Raceway outside of Phoenix, in the Can-Am 500, was the final qualifying event for next week’s finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where it will be winner-take-all between Busch, Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano.
Busch’s victory, the 51st of his career and his second at the one-mile track, tied him for the series lead with Harvick, who had to overcome an early flat tire to join Busch, Martinsville winner Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. (14th on Sunday) in the Championship 4.
“I’d like to think it gives us a lot (of momentum), but I don’t know, talk is cheap,” Busch said. “We’ve got to be able to go out there and perform and just do what we need to do. Being able to do what we did here today was certainly beneficial. I didn’t think we were the best car, but we did survive and we did what we needed to do. It’s just about getting to next week, and once we were locked in, it was ‘All bets are off and it’s time to go.'”
Harvick was the favorite to win Sunday and started from the pole, but an early flat tire made the race more eventful than he expected.
He found himself racing late against Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola for the last spot in the final four, but Busch got into a crash and Almirola had to win the race to snatch the berth away from Harvick.
“We kept ourselves in position all day, and there at the end, it was just like everybody wrecking and all over the place,” Harvick said. “We just needed to stay out of trouble and try to find a safe spot there.”
Kyle Busch’s 51st win broke a tie with NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett, leaving Busch alone in 11th place on the all-time list.
By the time he took the checkered flag .501 seconds ahead of Keselowski, Busch had already clinched a spot in the title race on points.
“What a day! What a race!” Busch said. “It’s an awesome team and awesome group of guys. Can’t say enough about everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing—all the men and women there that work so hard to prepare such great race cars that I get to drive, as has been the case all year.”
A flurry of late cautions that began when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked with 48 laps remaining. Stewart-Haas Racing used split strategy on the ensuing pit stop, as Kurt Busch stayed on the track to move into second while Harvick pitted for new tires and restarted sixth. NASCAR then stopped the race for the extensive cleanup.
Kurt Busch never got to find out if his strategy was the right one, as Denny Hamlin put Busch into the wall on the restart. As Busch’s car ricocheted back into traffic, he tagged Chase Elliott, ending Elliott’s bid to race his way into the final four or the championship.
Harvick finished in the top five, but the early flat tire meant he was always coming from behind.
“That flat tire, just leading the stage there, coming to the white, and the tire goes flat,” Harvick said of his early issue. “That just put us behind and that was really the turning point in our day, to not have everything go right.
“I mean, we got ourselves back in contention there, and we’re going in the right direction and wound up just finding a spot at the end to just survive there and get to the finish.”
The four challengers for the championship are an even match. There are two Fords and two Toyotas. Chevrolet, the long-time dominator in the sport, only had Elliott with any hope, and that was slim, for a place in the final four.
Ron Fleshman with John Davison
RIS NASCAR Editor. Has been with RIS since the middle 90's. Writes on each of the three main series of NASCAR.