DARLINGTON, S.C. – Kurt Busch came on strong early and dominated the opening stage of Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 for his third stage win of the season.
Busch led 72 of the first 100 laps in NASCAR’s most grueling race. He took the top spot for the first time at lap 20, with a sweeping inside pass of Brad Keselowski entering turn one, and only gave up the point briefly after that thanks to a brief challenge from Chase Elliott.
The Las Vegas native is driving a throwback scheme this weekend mimicking his orange-and-white 1969 Chevrolet Camaro Z28.
Busch beat Jimmie Johnson, who is scrapping for points in a desperate bid to make the playoffs, to the green-and-white checkered flag by 1.701 seconds.
Johnson’s runner-up stage finish gave him nine bonus points and marked his first stage points in the last three races.
Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin crossed the line third through fifth, respectively.
Chase Elliott was sixth, while Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones completed the points-scoring drivers in the top 10.
The stage was slowed twice by caution, once at lap 35 for a competition yellow due to heavy afternoon rains that delayed the start of the event, and a second time on lap 68 after Garrett Smithley spun on the back straightaway.
All 39 drivers were still running in the race at the conclusion of the first stage.