Kyle Busch moved to the lead for a final time with 36 laps to go, survived a couple of late restarts, and went on to win Sunday’s Can-Am 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.
The victory secured the Joe Gibbs Racing driver a berth in next weekend’s four-driver, season-ending, championship-deciding race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in South Florida.
“I didn’t think we were the best car,” he said, “but we survived and we did what we needed to do today. 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.’”
When asked if he felt he could add a second career championship at Homestead, Busch said, “I certainly would like to think so. What a day. What a race.”
Joining him in the championship event as a result of the sunny afternoon of racing near Phoenix were defending series champion Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. (who finished 14th Sunday) and Kevin Harvick (fifth) of Stewart-Haas Racing.
Both were, along with Busch, members of the so-called Big Three of 2018 as they have won 20 of 35 races.
The win gives Busch a bit of momentum heading into the season finale.
“I think it was just important to prove to ourselves that we’re firing on all cylinders,” said his crew chief, Adam Stevens. “We didn’t have the best weekend last week (in Texas, where Busch finished 17th). We overcame some adversity this week and it kind of shows what we got.”
Joey Logano of Team Penske started the day with his playoff berth in hand as a result of winning at Martinsville two weeks ago.
Finishing second Sunday was non-contender Brad Keselowski of Team Penske, while Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kyle Larson took third.
The final 45 laps loomed large in the fight to earn berths in the final four.
On a restart with 44 laps remaining, Kurt Busch of SHR, just a point in front of Harvick in the fight for the final berth, wrecked to end his shot at a second career championship.
Also involved in the wreck was contender Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports. Both Busch and Elliott had led double-digits laps at ISM and had shots at advancing.
“Got pinned on the outside wall (by a loose Denny Hamlin),” said Kurt Busch, who added that he had one of his fastest-ever cars at ISM. “Denny came out of nowhere and cleaned us out.”
Both Harvick and Truex had to sweat things out as they attempted to become eligible to win second career championships.
Harvick blew a tire in the first stage and fell a lap off the pace.
“We were in big trouble when we had the flat tire,” he said. “The car never drove quite as good after it dragged the ground all the way around the race track.”
Truex simply had a slow race car most of the day.
—Field Level Media