There is no doubt about it that the best car won on Saturday night in Kentucky. Kyle Busch led a race-high 163 laps and picked up his second win of the season as well as his second Cup Series win in the Bluegrass state.
Back in May when Busch declared that he was making a return to NASCAR after suffering a broken right leg and a broken left ankle at an XFINITY Series race at Daytona, NASCAR gave him a waiver. In order to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, he must have a win and be in the top 30 in the point standings after the 26th race of the year in Richmond.
After picking up a win in Sonoma two weeks ago Busch had the win he needed, but was still well over 130 points back of 30th-place in the championship standings. Now, with his win on Saturday, Busch sits just 87 points back of 30th-place driver Cole Whitt and the rest of the regular season favors Busch to make it into the Chase.
“That was awesome,” Busch said of the race. “It’s pretty cool to come to one of my best places and to score a win. This team did it for me. We had awesome stops all night keeping us up front and just an awesome racecar.”
2015 Daytona 500 winner, Joey Logano came home in the second position after running the majority of the race inside of the top five. Though being passed for the final lead-change, Logano feels that his team had one of their best races of the year.
“Second just hurts when you’re that close to winning,” Logano said in disappointment. “I’m proud of what we did today. We improved our speed and it’s the best we’ve been all year.”
On Lap 72 Denny Hamlin was running in the eighth position when he had to make an unscheduled pit stop for a flat right front tire. Hamlin went two laps down and made both of those laps up in the next 50 laps. Hamlin recovered to finish in the third position and it was his best finish on a 1.5 mile-track this season.
Carl Edwards came home in the fourth position and picked up just his third top 10 finish of 2015. Edwards won at Charlotte so he is locked into the Chase, but overall this was his best race from start to finish.
The final Joe Gibbs Racing driver, Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five. Brad Keselowski finished just outside of the top five in the sixth position after having one of the quickest cars all night long.
Keselowski led 62 laps on the evening, but had to overcome a lot of different adversities in order to take home a sixth place finish.
The No. 2 led the first 30 laps of the race. When the competition caution came out on Lap 30, Keselowski pitted and lost 10 positions because he took four tires when the competition took just two tires. It took Keselowski to Lap 93 to regain the lead. On Lap 122, the No. 2 car hit a tire out of his tire carrier’s hands and it cost him seconds on pit road and he restarted 15th. And with only 80 laps remaining, the air gun had a malfunction on pit road and again cost Keselowski multiple seconds, this time he restarted in the 18th position.
“It just didn’t come together for us,” said a disappointed Keselowski. “There are certainly things we could have done better. We just didn’t put the whole race together.”
Jeff Gordon raced in his final event at Kentucky and it turns out he will not win at every active track on the circuit. He finished in the seventh position and increased his point advantage over 17th in the standings.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. came home in the 21st position after battling brake issues from the green flag on Saturday night. The No. 88 also got into an on-track altercation with Danica Patrick after he spun her out in the corner because of the brake trouble.
Austin Dillon finished in the 25th position after a wild ride last weekend in Daytona. This marked the first race that Dillon raced in and he had an up-and-down night throughout but ultimately did not have the run he was hoping for.
The story of the weekend was the new aerodynamic package that NASCAR debuted at the Kentucky Speedway. NASCAR mandated that the front splitter be shrunk 1.75 inches and the rear spoiler be reduced to 3.5 inches, resulting in less downforce. Which is exactly what the drivers want.
“I know that I won but so far I like the new aero package,” said Busch in Victory Lane. “It just seemed like you weren’t stuck. Logano moved up to block my line and with the old package you would stall up and get stuck. With this one you can kind of move around.”
In particular, the Joe Gibbs Racing team overachieved in the first race with the new package because all four teams finished inside of the top five. The first time that any team has done that since Roush Fenway Racing did so at Michigan in 2008.
Edwards has been stressing that he wanted a new aero package for a long time.
“This package, we need to keep going in that direction,” said Edwards. “We’re closer together, I was steering right. You are using your car. Take all of the downforce away.”
While Hamlin was coming through the field he radioed into his team that he loves the new aero package.
Overall, Kentucky looked to be one of the better races of 2015. The new aero package looked to have had a lot to do it as it puts the driving back into the drivers and crew chiefs in regards to strategy and there is a lot more on-track passing. It will be interesting to see what intake NASCAR has on all of the positive feedback and what aero package will be permanent for the future.