Kyle Busch wins second Playoff race with a little bit of blind luck

LOUDON, NH - SEPTEMBER 24: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M's Caramel Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on September 24, 2017 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. Kyle Busch was both Sunday. Busch won his third race of the season and his third at New Hampshire Motor Speedway leading a race high 187 laps for victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ISM 300.

Busch emerged from two clouds of white smoke Sunday. The first caused from a spin, and after his victory burnout.

“It feels great,” Busch said. “This is what it’s all about, you know? We’re supposed to do these things and it feels even better when we can do those things and, you know, we’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities I feel like this year, but today we were able to execute all day long. We were able to get the things that we needed done done.”

The first cloud came during the defining moment of the race came on lap 149 as the field was racing to the green-checkered flag to end Stage 2. Martin Truex Jr. was leading and had won the first stage, but Kevin Harvick spun exiting turn 2 after contact with Austin Dillon.  A huge smoke cloud blocked the track and Truex just behind the melee was forced to stop. He received slight damage, but Busch was able to squeeze through the carnage unscathed and went onto win the stage.

“When I was coming up on it I saw the 33 (Jeffrey Earnhardt) in front of me checking up trying to slow down,” Busch said. “I was just checking up and trying to get slowed up as much as I could and Tony (Hirschman, spotter) pretty much said stop, you know, and it seemed like the track was plugged up and, you know, you had to go so low to miss it, but it was so late in the game before I could dedicate myself down there that I couldn’t do that, so we made it work though.”

From that point, Truex would struggle, and Busch would shine leading the rest of the laps for the win and a spot in the next round of the Playoffs.

“I could not see anything and I was just approaching the smoke and I’m like, ‘Oh no, where am I going to go?’” Truex said. “I mean, literally I couldn’t see anything and my spotter said go low. By then, it was kind of too late and I was already like to the smoke and I couldn’t commit. I just kind of like just kept slowing down and the 33 (Jeffrey Earnhardt) just came by me on the outside and hit me and spun me down through there, so just unfortunate, you know? We were coming to the green-white-checkered to win the second stage, which would have been another bonus point, which would be helpful and, of course, you know we had damage and had to fight from the back of the pack the rest of the day, so proud of our effort to run fifth after all that, but it definitely hurt our day.”

Kyle Larson was second followed by Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Truex in the top five.

“I mean, obviously you want to win,” Larson said. “And, second is the first loser. But, second is also not bad; especially when you get to the Playoffs. Winning is very important, but also consistency is just as important. We got a fifth last week and a second today with even better Stage points, so that was pretty much the day that we needed. Obviously, a win would have been great, but second was just as good.”

While Busch was lucky to make it through the lap 149, his brother Kurt wasn’t so fortunate. The elder Busch was blinded by the cloud and t-boned the car of Harvick, his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate. Both cars were done for the day and NASCAR was forced to throw a red flag for 13 minutes.  Both SHR drivers will need to have near miracles to advance after the cutoff race at Dover next week.

“I mean, I don’t know what to say,” Kurt said.  “It’s tough when you’re running where we were.  We were just trying to limp it to the end of stage two and I heard, ‘Car spinning off of two’ in my ear.  I saw smoke up ahead.  A lot of times they’ll come back up, and I tried to leave the high side or the low side and then, boom, as soon as the smoke cleared I’m looking at Harvick’s door, my teammate.  We’re both running for the Playoffs and it’s a shame that the handling is off and we’re both running where we were, but we were still going to fight all the way to the end, but now we don’t have a chance.  I cannot understand the bad luck that we’re having.”

Playoff driver Kasey Kahne also had an issue with broken suspension sending him to the garage on lap 262 of 300.

The win for Busch comes a week after his near perfect run at Chicagoland.  Last weekend Busch won the pole and led 85 laps in the race, but pit road issues, and penalties, left him with a 15th place finish.

There were no such issues Sunday, as Busch won from the pole for the 41st win of his Cup career.

“We did everything right,” Busch said. “We did everything we were supposed to do and that’s where you end up when we’re able to do those things and it was a great race up front too with the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) there. The 20 (Joey Logano) was there for a little. I think he was a little better on that long run that one time, but overall we had some really good short run speed there at the end. We were able to get out front there and kind of set the field because – set the pace – and that was what we needed to do today.”

Erik Jones was sixth, Clint Bowyer seventh, Daniel Suarez eighth followed by Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano.

Playoff driver finishes outside the top 10:  Chase Elliott was 11th, Denny Hamlin 12th, Ryan Newman 13th, Jimmie Johnson 14th, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 15th, Jamie McMurray 16th, Kasey Kahne 35th, Kevin Harvick, 36th, and Kurt Busch 37th.

The final race of the Round of 16 comes at Dover next Sunday with the Apache Warrior 400; four drivers will be eliminated. Live coverage will be on the NBC Sports Network at 2:00 p.m. ET.

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