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Busch feels right at home in winning at NHMS

By REID SPENCER
NASCAR Wire Service

September 24. 2017 9:48PM
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch holds up a lobster and celebrates his first place finish of the ISM Connect 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

LOUDON — Kyle Busch didn’t need a smokescreen to win Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway — he simply had to survive one.

Driving unscathed through a cloud of smoke on the backstretch on the final lap of the second stage, Busch, the polesitter, took control of the race at the halfway point and beat Kyle Larson to the finish line by 2.641 seconds.

In winning for the third time this season, the third time at Loudon and the 41st time in his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career, Busch led 187 of 300 laps at the 1.058-mile track and locked up a spot in the Playoff Round of 12.

But Busch had a close call when contact between Austin Dillon’s Chevrolet and Kevin Harvick’s Ford on Lap 150 turned Harvick sideways and lit up his tires. Kurt Busch plowed into the side of Harvick’s car, followed by Jeffrey Earnhardt.

The No. 78 Toyota of race leader and first stage winner Martin Truex Jr. was collateral damage in the wreck, as was the Chevy of Dale Earnhardt Jr., but the race winner slowed dramatically and squeezed between Harvick’s disabled car and the outside wall to win the second stage under caution.

From that point on, Busch was in control, save for a three-lap stint late in the race when Truex took a short-lived lead with a two-tire stop under caution.

“That was pretty intense,” Busch said of the wreck he avoided. “That was some ‘Days of Thunder’ stuff over there. You couldn’t see anything. It was just a wall of smoke over there off of Turn 2. I was listening to my spotter and basically was told to stop, and I was like ’Sounds like a good idea.’

“I just checked up as much as I could. Of course, I was trying not to get run into from behind. I didn’t know who was behind me — I knew (eventual third-place finisher) Matt (Kenseth) was there. But all in all, just a great day. We ran up front all day long, we executed, we did what we were supposed to do, and it’s awesome to win here in the Granite State in front of these fans.”

Busch wasn’t the only driver to secure a spot in the Round of 12. Larson and fourth-place finisher Brad Keselowski also are assured of advancing on points. With Truex gaining the next round thanks to his victory in last Sunday’s Playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway, four of the 12 berths are taken.

Larson finished second for the eighth time this season.

“I kind of ran around third to fifth all race long,” said Larson, who led Lap 77 under caution — the only lap not led by either Busch or Truex. “I felt like I wasn’t great on short runs, but I was really good on long runs, which was kind of opposite of practice. I was kind of happy about that. Got a good restart there at the end, got to second, and kept my pace up with Kyle a little bit there.

“But he could just get pointed a little bit better than me and get the throttle down where I would spin my tires a little bit. Too loose there on the short run, but if we could have had a long run, maybe who knows? But he was fast, 78 (Truex) was fast, Matt (Kenseth) was really good, so I thought we were probably fourth best or so.”

Truex finished fifth after falling to 17th after the Lap 150 wreck deprived him of the stage win. Non-Playoff drivers Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez grabbed the sixth through eighth spots, respectively, followed by Ryan Blaney in ninth and Joey Logano in 10th.

Harvick finished 36th and fell to 10th in the standings. The news was worse for Kurt Busch, who had no margin for error. Busch ended the day in 37th place, dropping to 15th in the Playoff standings, 17 points below the current cutoff for the Round of 12.

Calamity also befell Kasey Kahne, who started the weekend with a new crew chief, Darian Grubb, and a ninth-place qualifying effort. But a broken rear suspension part sent Kahne to the garage for 11 laps and dropped him to 35th at the finish.

Kahne heads to Dover 16th in the series standings, likely needing a victory at the monster Mile to keep his title hopes alive in his last season behind the wheel of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Stenhouse rallies

Doubtless Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s 15th-place finish will be a mere footnote to Sunday’s race.

But for Stenhouse, recovery from early adversity could well mean the difference between advancing to the next round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and almost certain elimination.

For the second straight week, Stenhouse suffered an early brush with the outside wall, this time off Turn 4 on Lap 7. With the handling of his car hurt by the impact, Stenhouse eventually lost a lap to then-leader Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 136.

But Stenhouse fought back. After losing a battle for the “Lucky Dog” position to Denny Hamlin on Lap 188, Stenhouse and crew chief Brian Pattie opted to return to the lead lap with a wave-around under caution for a restart on Lap 268.

The risk was rewarded. Another quick caution on the restart lap put Stenhouse in position to pit for tires, and after the final restart on Lap 273, he improved to 15th.

That finish left him 12th in the standings heading to Dover and in a position to fight for a berth in the Round of 12.

“It was a struggle for us all weekend,” Stenhouse said. “I told my guys I felt like we were in a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather all week. We just couldn’t find speed, couldn’t find the handle on the car. We made a lot of adjustments for today and (the car) was surprisingly a little bit better than we were in practice.

“I didn’t think we were as capable of a car to finish where we did, but we did what we needed and had some good breaks and some good pit stops and ended up gaining some points. That was our goal, so I feel really good about that. I’d say we’ve had two sub-par weeks, and we’re still in this thing, so we’ll regroup and get focused and go to Dover.”

NASCAR Monster Cup Series

ISM Connect 300 Results

Sunday

At NH Motor Speedway, Loudon

Lap Length: 1.06 miles

1. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 300 laps, 0.0 rating, 58 points, 6 playoff points

2. (2) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 300, 0.0, 50, 0

3. (10) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 300, 0.0, 48, 0

4. (13) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 300, 0.0, 45, 0

5. (5) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 300, 0.0, 47, 1

6. (8) Erik Jones, Toyota, 300, 0.0, 45, 0

7. (16) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 300, 0.0, 30, 0

8. (25) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 300, 0.0, 29, 0

9. (4) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 300, 0.0, 36, 0

10. (39) Joey Logano, Ford, 300, 0.0, 27, 0

11. (14) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 300, 0.0, 26, 0

12. (3) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 300, 0.0, 30, 0

13. (18) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 300, 0.0, 24, 0

14. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 300, 0.0, 30, 0

15. (24) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 300, 0.0, 22, 0

16. (11) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 300, 0.0, 22, 0

17. (20) A.J. Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 300, 0.0, 20, 0

18. (27) Danica Patrick, Ford, 300, 0.0, 19, 0

19. (17) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 300, 0.0, 18, 0

20. (19) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 300, 0.0, 17, 0

21. (22) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 299, 0.0, 16, 0

22. (30) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 298, 0.0, 15, 0

23. (31) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 298, 0.0, 14, 0

24. (23) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 298, 0.0, 13, 0

25. (28) Landon Cassill, Ford, 298, 0.0, 12, 0

26. (29) Aric Almirola, Ford, 297, 0.0, 11, 0

27. (33) Corey LaJoie, Toyota, 297, 0.0, 10, 0

28. (35) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 297, 0.0, 9, 0

29. (21) David Ragan, Ford, 296, 0.0, 8, 0

30. (32) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 296, 0.0, 7, 0

31. (26) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 295, 0.0, 6, 0

32. (36) Brett Moffitt, Toyota, 294, 0.0, 0, 0

33. (34) Gray Gaulding, Toyota, 293, 0.0, 4, 0

34. (15) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 289, 0.0, 3, 0

35. (9) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 289, 0.0, 2, 0

36. (6) Kevin Harvick, Ford, Accident, 148, 0.0, 2, 0

37. (7) Kurt Busch, Ford, Accident, 148, 0.0, 1, 0

38. (37) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, Accident, 143, 0.0, 1, 0

39. (38) Cody Ware, Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 74, 0.0, 1, 0

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 108.958 mph.

Time of Race: 2 hours, 54 minutes, 47 seconds.

Margin of Victory: 2.641 seconds.

Lead Changes: 6.



2017 Driver Standings

1. Kyle Busch, 2064.

2. Martin Truex Jr., 2062.

3. Kyle Larson, 2062.

4. Brad Keselowski, 2051.

5. Matt Kenseth, 2048.

6. Denny Hamlin, 2039.

7. Jimmie Johnson, 2039.

8. Ryan Blaney, 2039.

9. Joey Logano, 2030.

10. Chase Elliott, 2029.

11. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 2028.

12. Ryan Newman, 2027.

13. Austin Dillon, 2021.

14. Kevin Harvick, 2005.

15. Kasey Kahne, 2005.

16. Kurt Busch, 2004.

Schedule

Sept. 24 — ISM Connect 300. (Kyle Busch) 

Oct. 1 — Apache Warrior 400 presented by Lucas Oil, Dover, Delaware

Oct. 8 — Bank of America 500, Concord, North Carolina

Oct. 15 — Alabama 500, Talladega, Alabama

Oct. 22 — Hollywood Casino 400, Kansas City, Kansas

Oct. 29 — First Data 500, Martinsville, Virginia

Nov. 5 — AAA Texas 500, Fort Worth, Texas

Nov. 12 — Can-Am 500, Avondale, Arizona

Nov. 19 — Ford EcoBoost 400, Homestead, Florida


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