Kyle Busch Scores Richmond Win to Advance
On a night of important milestones, in a car hastily repaired after a brush with the wall during qualifying, Kyle Busch held off Kevin Harvick to win Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway to advance to the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
After a pitched battle against Brad Keselowski that lasted 21 laps, Busch made the winning pass for the lead on Lap 364 of 400 at the .75-mile track. Busch's first victory in a fall race at Richmond was his sixth at the track, most among active drivers, and it gave him a season sweep at the short track.
The win was Busch's seventh of the season—tying him with Harvick for the series lead—and the 50th of his career, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett for 11th on the all-time list.
Busch, who led 92 laps, had to fight for the win. Harvick passed Keselowski for second on Lap 372 and quickly gained ground on Busch, who had punished his equipment in the fight against Keselowski.
"Yeah, that was a little too close for my comfort," said Busch, who started from the rear of the field after his team did yeoman work on the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry to repair the damage sustained during qualifying. "I thought we were a little bit better than that on the long runs, (but) I know Harvick… that's kind of his specialty. We had a really, really good race car tonight.
"The guys did a great job coming back from a dismal qualifying effort and preparing a really, really good race car for us tonight. We started dead last, came up through the field and won this thing… I put us a little bit behind yesterday in qualifying, and the guys did a great job rallying to put it together.
"Hey, I finally won a fall race at Richmond! What do you know?"
Harvick simply ran out of time in his quest to reel in the race winner, but he was pleased with his recovery from an accident that sidelined him 73 laps into last Sunday's Playoff opener at Las Vegas. Currently third in the standings and 57 points ahead of 13th place, Harvick has a comfortable cushion heading to the Round 1 cutoff race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course.
"We were starting to track him down there at the end," Harvick said. "I needed about 25 more laps… Any other round of the Playoffs, I would say it didn't matter—we just needed to try to win. But I'm terrified of next week, to tell you the truth, just because there are so many unknowns."
Thanks to his stage wins, Truex retook the series lead from Busch and clinched a spot in Round 2 on points. Chase Elliott ran fourth, recovering from a Las Vegas wreck as did Harvick. Aric Almirola came home fifth, scoring his second top five of the season.
Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, and Alex Bowman finished sixth through 12th, respectively, as Playoff drivers swept the top 12 positions. Bowyer, Johnson, Jones and 16th-place finisher Denny Hamlin are 13th through 16th in points and in danger of falling out of the Playoffs after the elimination race at Charlotte.
Busch's only complaint after the race was an aching back.
"My back is killing me," said the 33-year-old driver. "You're so on edge here that you're just trying to feel the race car the entire time, and you're clenched, and you can never let go.
"You can never relax and it's just that way the entirety of this race. Long runs like that, it wears on you a little bit, especially when you get to be an old man."
But the "old man" can relax now, with nothing on the line at the Charlotte Road Course except for the desire to add another new track to his portfolio.
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 1st
Were you nervous coming down the stretch battling Brad Keselowski and with Kevin Harvick coming?
“That was too close for my comfort. I thought we were a little bit better than that on the long run. I know (Kevin) Harvick, that’s kind of his specialty, but we had a really, really good race car tonight. The M&M’s Camry was awesome. The guys did a great job coming back from a dismal qualifying effort and prepared a really good race car here for us tonight. And, being able to start dead last and come up through the field and win this thing, that’s right Rowdy nation. All for you baby.”
Were you thinking of advancing to the second round and not having to worry about the Roval in your battle with Brad Keselowski?
“Actually, no, I never thought of it once. I just wanted to go out there and win this thing. Win this thing for M&M’s, win this thing for my team, Toyota -- everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota. Obviously, it’s a whole team effort. We were a little bit behind yesterday in qualifying and the guys did a great job rallying and being able to put it together and giving us a really fast race car for tonight. Appreciate you guys, everybody at Richmond, thanks for coming out. Awesome race track and I love coming here. Hey, I finally won a fall race in Richmond. What do you know?”
How impressed are you to sweep Richmond this year with 32nd and 39th starting spots in both races?
“Yeah, I'm not going to qualify here anymore (laughter). It’s a waste of time for us. I don’t know why, I just can not qualify here, but we’ve got a really good race car when it comes down time to have a race and especially the later it gets. (Kevin) Harvick was getting me a little bit there at the end, but I think I was running myself pretty hard with Brad (Keselowski) a little bit earlier than that so I think he had a little bit more than I had there later in the game. This M&M’s Toyota Camry was awesome tonight. I can’t thank Adam Stevens (crew chief) and all my guys enough. Great job at working on this thing and getting it put back together today and being able to get it ready for tonight to be a great race car. Also want to thank NOS Energy Drink, Rheem, Stanley, DVX Eyewear, Black Clover and of course the fans, Rowdy nation. It’s awesome to come out here. I saw a lot of 18 gear here this weekend so really fun to see that and be able to put on a good show coming from the back all the way up to the front and being able to win for all those guys.”
Do you have a headache after this race?
“No, my back is killing me. You’re so on edge here that you’re just trying to feel the race car the entire time and you’re clenched, and you can never let go. You can never relax and it’s just that way the entirety of this race. Long runs like that, it wears on you a little bit especially when you get to be an old man.”
What did you do to make your Camry so good in the second half of the race?
“My guys. Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys that work on this thing. Obviously, I kind of put us a little bit behind there yesterday in qualifying getting into the wall and had to go to work this afternoon and put me back together an awesome race car. So, real proud of the effort and real proud of my guys. This M&M’s Toyota Camry was really good tonight. Early on in the race, the first run of the race especially when the track hasn’t quite cooled off yet you’re always kind of fighting those things of just not a lot of grip. There through the middle part of the race, I think we really had a race car to contend for the win and we kind of drove up there. We kept making up spots and making up ground and I was surprised that it was going as fast as it was going. And, then there at the end racing as hard as I had to race with the 2 (Brad Keselowski) car just wore my stuff out a little bit. But, once I was able to get by him I had some clean race track for a little while and then (Kevin) Harvick started running me down there at the end. I don’t know, 10 more laps and it was going to be a race so I'm glad this thing is only 400.”
ADAM STEVENS, crew chief, No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What does it mean to get the victory tonight with Kyle Busch going from last to first place?
“That was a really strong effort there by our whole team. Kind of got behind the eight-ball banging the ball there in qualifying, but there’s no quit in these guys, no quit in KB (Kyle Busch). I think we’re setup here for a push to the finish.”
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