It was a bright and sunny day in the northern region of the United States when Kyle Busch bolted his way across the finish line to capture his third checkered flag of 2015.
At the time of his return in mid-May it seemed impossible for Busch to be at top shape, being just 11 weeks out of his viscous crash in the XFINITY Series race at Daytona in February. It’s starting to become more of a reality that Busch will be in the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“This is such an awesome win and such an awesome comeback,” Busch said in Victory Lane. “I just can’t say enough about everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, and the work that they put in. It’s just so much fun to win these races with these guys, the same guys that I’ve been win since 2008.”
Busch, who had to overcome late-race adversity, led 95 laps on the afternoon, six less laps than runner-up finisher Brad Keselowski.
On Lap 245, Busch brought his car down pit road during a round of green flag pit stops. At the time of the pit stop he was running in the fourth position but he felt that he had a tire going down so rather than taking a chance he brought his car to pit road to get four fresh Goodyear tires. It turned out that there was just some oil on the track which brought out the caution. For the next five laps, Busch ran as hard as he could because he needed to either pass the leader Kevin Harvick to get back on the lead lap or become the first car one lap down in order to be the “lucky dog”. Busch passed Harvick on outright speed and just as he did the caution came out. While all of the other teams had to pit in order to make it to the finish, Busch had made his last pit stop and evidently was the race leader on the resuming restart. Busch held on for the final 45 laps and picked up his second career win at the “Magic Mile”.
“Coming to pit road I thought I had a tire going down,” Busch said. “There ended up being oil on the race track and I got back to the lead lap before the caution came out.”
The No. 18 team has now won three out-of-the last four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. More impressively, Busch has gained 70 points on the top-30 in the season standings in the past two races and currently sits just 58 points behind 30th place David Gilliland.
“We just got to keep doing what we are doing,” said Busch. Every week are getting better and better. To do it in the fashion we have been by just winning these things is just spectacular.”
Brad Keselowski led 101 laps on the afternoon but his late pit strategy caught him behind and he couldn’t stay with Busch on the final run of the race. Though coming up short, Keselowski should feel really good about coming back to New Hampshire in the Chase.
“We had a really fast car,” Keselowski said out of disappointment. “At the end I was just hoping to catch a break and hope he’d slip.”
Harvick was the leader prior to the final pit stop of the race. Much like Keselowski, the pit strategy caught him behind Busch and he could never overcome the track position deficit.
“I think we had the right pit strategy.” Harvick said about his team. “We just had a little miscue on the last pit stop. Those guys have been great all year and it took me a little longer to get passed a couple of those cars and we had lost track position.”
Joey Logano scored his second consecutive top-five finish on Sunday at New Hampshire. The fall 2014 winner in Loudon ran most of this race towards the front and he is confident for the fall race.
“I thought my team executed really well,” Logano said after finishing fourth. “We were towards the front all day long but we just didn’t have enough to get it done. I’m really happy with Team Penske and the direction that we are going.”
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. overcame a late race mishap to round out the top five. Earnhardt picked up his eighth career top five finish in New Hampshire and he currently holds the most top five finishes without a win at the one-mile oval.
Matt Kenseth had to fight off an early race pit road speeding penalty to come home just outside of the top five in sixth.
The biggest incident of the race came on Lap 97 when the No, 7 of Alex Bowman right front tire started on fire. After Bowman re-entered the track the fire increased in intensity and burnt the whole right side of the racecar. The team had to go to the garage to fix the problem and finished 42nd.
Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson are both on the bubble of making this year’s edition of the Chase. However, they both had disappointing runs at one of their best race tracks.
Bowyer came in just inside of the top-16 in points and leaves two points behind Aric Almirola. Bowyer had a run-in with Ryan Blaney on Lap 210 racing for the 20th position and it ruined the rest of the No. 15 day as he had to make an unscheduled pit stop due to rear end damage from getting into the wall.
Larson on the other end never could overcome a mid-race pit road speeding penalty and he finished in the 31st position. Larson finished second and third respectively in both races at Loudon last season. Larson will most definitely need to win one of the remaining seven races prior to this year’s Chase in order to be in the hunt for the championship.
Next weekend the Cup Series rolls into Indianapolis for one of the biggest races of the season, the Brickyard 400. Indianapolis can turn a team’s season around and if a team can win there more than likely they’ll be in the hunt for the Sprint Cup championship.