Lady Luck Finally Smiles On Kurt Busch In Vegas

Kurt Busch celebrates his victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday evening. (HHP/Jim Fluharty Photo)
Kurt Busch celebrates his victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday evening. (HHP/Jim Fluharty Photo)

LAS VEGAS – Kurt Busch spent almost 20 years trying to win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his hometown track.

On Sunday, Busch was finally able to get the job done. Ironically, in the gambling capital of the United States, it took a strategic gamble by his crew chief Matt McCall to put him in position to claim the victory.

“This is 20 years of agony, defeat and now today with triumph,” Busch said. “This is my hometown and I have so many people to thank and I just couldn’t be more proud and I know that they’re very proud right now.

“My heart is full. I’ve won at my hometown track after 20 some odd tries.”

Busch was running just outside the top-10 when a round of green flag pit stops began with 36 laps left. McCall opted to keep Busch on track to run out the pit cycle in the hopes of catching a caution to shift the race in their favor.

The desired caution came with 32 laps left when a tire failed on Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet, scattering debris down the backstretch. Busch was the leader at the time and the caution left most of the top cars, including the dominant Toyota of playoff contender Denny Hamlin, a lap down.

“We were cranking out some great lap times on old tires and the yellow came out,” Busch said. “It’s like having all your chips in on a roulette number and it came up one. It came up our number and we doubled down.”

Busch was able hit pit road for tires and fuel and return to the track in second behind the Ford of Matt DiBenedetto, who was on pit road at the time of the caution and managed to remain on the lead lap. Hamlin and the rest of the cars who pitted prior to the caution took the wave around to get back on the lead lap.

DiBenedetto led the field back to the green flag with 25 to go, but Busch was determined to take the lead away. After a lap of racing side-by-side Busch was able to pull clear of DiBenedetto on the inside to take the race lead.

Busch continued to lead until John Hunter Nemechek, who was running fourth at the time after moving to the front of the field thanks to the caution flag, spun with 17 to go to bring out the caution flag.

While Busch and DiBenedetto opted not to pit during the caution period, Hamlin and most of the other cars who had been working their way back to the front came down pit road for fresh tires. Hamlin would restart 13th, the best of those cars that pitted.

When racing resumed with 12 laps left, Busch got an incredible restart to pull clear of DiBenedetto before the field got to turn one. Busch again maintained the top spot as laps clicked off, but the final caution waved with seven laps left when William Byron spun after contact with Christopher Bell on the frontstretch.

Busch now had to survive an overtime restart with DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Chris Buescher and Denny Hamlin next in the order.

Just like the previous restart, Busch was able to get an incredible restart to get ahead of DiBenedetto before the field got to turn one. With DiBenedetto trying to hold off the field for second, Busch was able to hang on for the emotional victory.

Busch entered the weekend 12th of the 12 drivers in the hunt for the NASCAR Cup Series title. Now he’s earned his spot in the round of eight that begins at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 18.

“No Talladega worries. No ROVAL worries,” Busch said in reference to the next two races on the schedule. “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.”

DiBenedetto was able to hold off Hamlin, who got alongside him coming to the white flag, to finish second. The driver of the No. 21 Ford finished second for the third time in his career and for the second-straight race at the Las Vegas 1.5-mile oval.

“Two seconds at Vegas. It’s tough to come that close, just wanted it so bad for this team,” DiBenedetto said. “Our car was the best it had been at the end, just couldn’t get control on those restarts.”

Hamlin settled for third after leading a race-high 121 laps. Playoff drivers Martin Truex Jr. and Bowman completed the top-five. Sixth-place went to playoff driver Kyle Busch, followed by Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Chris Buescher and playoff driver Kevin Harvick.

Other playoff contenders that finished outside the top-10 included Clint Bowyer (12th), Brad Keselowski (13th), Joey Logano (14th), Aric Almirola (17), Chase Elliott (22nd) and Austin Dillon (32nd).

For complete results, advance to the next page.