Kurt Busch gambles and wins big in Vegas

Playoff contender Kurt Busch, driver of the #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, races to win his first hometown victory Sunday night, September 27, 2020 during the first Playoff Round of 12 NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada. No fans were on hand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

Kurt Busch rolled the dice and hit the jackpot Sunday. The Las Vegas native scored his first NASCAR Cup series career victory at his hometown track with a combination of hard driving and a little bit of luck.

The elder of the Busch brothers took the lead for the final time in overtime and never looked back holding the top spot as Matt DiBenedetto and Denny Hamlin dueled behind him. DiBenedetto would grab second on the white flag lap but had nothing for Busch who won by .148-of a second.

“This is what kids grow up when they are racing,” Busch said. “They grow up dreaming of winning on their home track and for two decades it has kicked my butt.”

Sadly, due to the pandemic Busch’s victory celebration at the start-finish line was played to empty stands.

“This is Vegas and I miss the fans,” Busch said. “I miss them so much. My dad and my mom, they were there every day at the track pushing. And Brexton, my nephew, won last night. Those thoughts were running through my head because my hometown is special. This Vegas place is special.”

The win for Busch was set up thanks to a caution flag for debris from a shredded right-rear tire on Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet that came out with 32 laps remaining, and in the middle of a cycle of green flag stops. DiBenedetto had just came to pit road when the yellow came out and was able to come out ahead of the pace car inheriting the lead.

By virtue of having not pitted yet, Busch was the only championship-eligible driver on the lead lap when caution froze the field with he and 10 other drivers the only ones on the lead lap.  The top 11 on the lead lap were able to pit and Busch restarted second when the green flew with 25 to go. Busch soon had the lead and was comfortably in control.

Busch would keep the lead after a caution for a spin in volving John Hunter Nemechek on lap 251.  Denny Hamlin, who had led a race high 121 laps to that point, led a parade of cars from 11th on back for tires while Busch, DiBenedetto and others ahead stayed out.

The restart came with 12 laps to go and Busch was again holding the lead as Hamlin on fresher tires charged forward.  Hamlin’s advance as halted with five laps to go when William Byron spun on the frontstretch after contact with Christopher Bell who had a right rear tire go flat and slowed ahead of him.

The caution setup the overtime and the emotional win by Busch.

“Yeah, the No. 11 (Hamlin) had a ton of speed,” Busch said. “I was wide-open. And you just have to manipulate the draft. I pulled out some old drag racing skills on the restarts. I knew that was our strong suit. We just put ourselves in position and we held off.”

Hamlin, who won the first stage in addition to leading the most laps, was third followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman in fifth.

“Just same thing as happened at Darlington, untimely cautions,” Hamlin said. “That’s what’s keeping us out of victory lane. We obviously had a dominant car today and I’m proud of the whole FedEx team for giving me such a great car, by far the best car I’ve had in Las Vegas and maybe a long time at any mile-and-a-half [track]. Just really happy with it.”

“Really encouraged by the way we ran, obviously just very disappointed we didn’t get a win.”

For DiBenedetto it was a heartbreaking runner-up finish. A result which tied his best Vegas finish which came in February.  But comes at a time when he is only days away from learning if the Wood Brothers will extend his contract for another year.

“It’s tough to come that close, just wanted it so bad for this team,” DiBenedetto said.  “I love driving for the Wood Brothers.  I want that number 100 for them so bad.”

“Our car was the best it had been at the end, just couldn’t get control on those restarts.  The 1 car, Kurt, did a great job.  We had completely different ratios for the restarts and once he gained control of the race, he played the right games on the restarts, knew what we had on our weakness there.  Man, it’s tough to come that close.  I just want it so bad, but I’m proud of the team.  They did a great job. “

Several playoff drivers ran into trouble. Kyle Busch and Joey Logano made contact on the restart after Stage 2 while racing for the lead. Logano was forced to pit road under green to fix a tire rub.  Logano rallied from two laps down to finish 14th on the lead lap.

Kyle Busch was sixth.  Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones and Chris Buescher were behind with playoff driver Kevin Harvick, who struggled all race long, managing only 10th.

Austin Dillon, who was a surprise in the first round had several issues. His first a pit-road penalty after a crewman toppled over the pit wall. He then lost several laps while his crew changed a broken power-steering belt on the No. 3 Chevrolet under green. He was 32nd, seven laps down at the end.

Clint Bowyer was 14th just ahead of Brad Keselowski and Logano. Aric Almirola 17th, and Chase Elliott who won Stage 2 and led the second most laps of the race, 73, finished a dismal 22nd.

Kurt Busch, who started the day 13th in points has now become the first driver to be locked into the Round of 8 which starts after the Talladega and ROVAL races.

“No Talladega worries,” Busch said. “No Roval worries. But we’re still going there to get points. We’re still going there to add up what we need to do to win this championship.”

Harvick leads the Playoff standings with a three-point edge on Hamlin. Keselowski, Truex, Logano, Elliott and Bowman round out the Top-8 after Las Vegas.

Busch’s brother, the defending series champion, heads to Talladega nine points behind Bowman for the final eighth transfer position. Clint Bowyer is 20 points back, Aric Almirola is 27 points back and Austin Dillon is 32 points from the cutoff line.

Kyle was however happy for his older brother taking a moment to give his car a congratulatory bump on the cool-down lap.

“It’s awesome,” Kyle said. “I got my win here a long time ago and we’ve both always struggled here. We’ve never really been very good here, I think he would admit it probably. It was pretty cool to finally see him get a victory here in Las Vegas and score a hometown win. That’s kind of like a Daytona 500 win, but he’s got one of those so he still one-upped me again. We’ll have to figure out if we can get a win this year.”

The NASCAR Cup Series’ next race is the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway next Sunday at 2:00 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBC.

Playoff contender Kurt Busch, driver of the #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, celebrates his first hometown victory Sunday night, September 27, 2020 during the first Playoff Round of 12 NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nevada. No fans were on hand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

NASCAR Cup Series Race Results South Point 400
Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Las Vegas, Nevada
Sunday, September 27, 2020

1. (9)  Kurt Busch (P), Chevrolet, 268.

2. (19)  Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 268.

3. (10)  Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 268.

4. (11)  Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 268.

5. (8)  Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 268.

6. (2)  Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 268.

7. (15)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 268.

8. (13)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 268.

9. (16)  Chris Buescher, Ford, 268.

10. (1)  Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 268.

11. (18)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 268.

12. (6)  Clint Bowyer (P), Ford, 268.

13. (12)  Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 268.

14. (5)  Joey Logano (P), Ford, 268.

15. (27)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 268.

16. (22)  Cole Custer #, Ford, 268.

17. (4)  Aric Almirola (P), Ford, 268.

18. (20)  Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 268.

19. (21)  Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 268.

20. (25)  John Hunter Nemechek #, Ford, 268.

21. (17)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 268.

22. (3)  Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 268.

23. (33)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 268.

24. (26)  Christopher Bell #, Toyota, 268.

25. (28)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 268.

26. (24)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 267.

27. (31)  Corey LaJoie, Ford, 267.

28. (23)  Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 266.

29. (29)  Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 265.

30. (35)  Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, 265.

31. (30)  Gray Gaulding(i), Ford, 262.

32. (7)  Austin Dillon (P), Chevrolet, 261.

33. (37)  JJ Yeley(i), Chevrolet, 261.

34. (32)  Quin Houff #, Chevrolet, 259.

35. (34)  Joey Gase(i), Ford, 256.

36. (38)  Josh Bilicki(i), Ford, Suspension, 227.

37. (36)  Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Rear End, 160.

38. (14)  Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, Accident, 157.

39. (39)  Chad Finchum(i), Toyota, Overheating, 19.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  131.42 mph.
Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 3 Mins, 32 Secs. Margin of Victory:  .148 Seconds.
Caution Flags:  7 for 36 laps.
Lead Changes:  20 among 11 drivers.
Lap Leaders:   K. Harvick (P) 0;C. Elliott (P) 1-27;K. Busch (P) 28-30;D. Hamlin (P) 31-83;K. Busch (P) 84-86;J. Logano (P) 87;D. Hamlin (P) 88-91;C. Elliott (P) 92-118;R. Blaney 119;M. DiBenedetto 120;B. Keselowski (P) 121-122;W. Byron 123-134;C. Buescher 135-144;C. Elliott (P) 145-163;D. Hamlin (P) 164-166;A. Bowman (P) 167-171;D. Hamlin (P) 172-232;M. DiBenedetto 233-234;K. Busch (P) 235-237;M. DiBenedetto 238-242;K. Busch (P) 243-268.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Denny Hamlin (P) 4 times for 121 laps; Chase Elliott (P) 3 times for 73 laps; Kurt Busch (P) 2 times for 29 laps; William Byron 1 time for 12 laps; Chris Buescher 1 time for 10 laps; Matt DiBenedetto 3 times for 8 laps; Kyle Busch (P) 2 times for 6 laps; Alex Bowman (P) 1 time for 5 laps; Brad Keselowski (P) 1 time for 2 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 1 lap; Joey Logano (P) 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,22,18,9,4,3,12,88,19,14
Stage #2 Top Ten: 9,11,88,19,12,3,4,21,14,24