Third win a charm: Kyle Busch does it again at New Hampshire
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but when a driver is both, he can be nearly unbeatable.
And that’s what Kyle Busch was on Sunday, as he won for the third time in four races by capturing the 5-Hour Energy 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has been wicked fast in recent weeks, but it was a well-timed late-race pit stop that gave Busch a lead he would not surrender.
And with the victory, Busch took another huge chunk out of the points deficit he needs to make the top 30 in points and qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Busch moved all the way up to 33rd in points, and his now just 58 points behind 30th-place David Gilliland.
Finishing second behind Busch was Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski, who led a race-high 101 of 301 laps.
Kevin Harvick, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, was third in his Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, followed by Joey Logano in a second Penske Ford and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevy.
It was another spectacular outing for Busch and JGR, as both driver and team have been red-hot in recent weeks.
"It’s such an awesome win, such an awesome comeback," said an emotional Busch, who missed the first 11 races of the season with leg and foot injuries suffered in a crash during a NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona in February. "And I just can’t say enough about everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, the work that they put in. Our cars are a lot better than what they were last year. Man, it’s so much fun to win these races and win this group of guys."
For Keselowski and Harvick, they were good but just not quite good enough, or maybe not quite lucky enough.
"I was just hoping to catch a break and didn’t catch one," said Keselowski, who scored his first top-five finish since Texas in April.
"I think we had the right strategy," said Harvick. "We just had a little miscue on the last pit stop, but those guys (his crew) have done great all year. They did great all day. It just took me a little longer to get around a couple of those cars and lost the track position."
Carl Edwards started from the pole in his JGR Toyota, flanked by New England native Logano.
Edwards led early, setting a brisk pace as those behind him sorted themselves out. Busch, Edwards’ teammate, was able to maneuver past a lapped car and went underneath Edwards to take the point on Lap 20.
Keselowski used a two-tire pit stop during an early caution to run down Busch and pass him for the lead on Lap 67.
At the halfway point, Lap 151, Keselowski was ahead of Busch by 2.81 seconds. Harvick was third at this point, ahead of his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch and Earnhardt. In the first half of the race, Keselowski led 70 laps.
The race turned on Lap 194, during a restart following a caution for debris. Keselowski got a bad restart, allowing Harvick to take the lead and Busch to move to second.
On Lap 244, Harvick reported that he had a right-front tire going down, but it turned out to be oil in Turn 2. Busch thought he had a right-front problem, too, and pitted for four fresh tires under green, going a lap down.
Keselowski caught Harvick on Lap 251, just seconds before the caution flew so NASCAR could check Turn 2 for oil. And right before the caution, Busch passed Harvick to get back on the lead lap after going one circuit down when he stopped earlier.
That pass proved to be the decisive move of the race, because when the leaders pitted, Busch stayed out and took over the lead from Keselowski and Matt Kenseth. Harvick, meanwhile, fell to sixth, the first driver to take four fresh tires.
Once the green fell, Busch took off, as no one behind him had anything for him as he drove on to victory.
"This is a crazy sport and you never know how it’s going to turn out," said Busch. "Coming to pit road, I thought I had a tire going down. And there was oil on the track. Luckily, I got back to the lead lap before the yellow came out. Man, that saved us right there."
VIDEO: Alex Bowman’s right front tire bursts into flames at New Hampshire