PHOENIX – It was a roller coaster day at ISM Raceway for many of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs contenders, with the highest of highs and lowest of lows. But it was Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’s Toyota, who celebrated in the new Gatorade Victory Lane following Sunday’s Can-Am 500.
“It certainly feels really good,” said Busch, who led a race-high 117 laps. “It’s better, if you have a shot to win, to go ahead and win than not. Obviously, the beginning of the race was not quite as good as we wanted it to be. We kept working on the car all day long, kept making it better. It was super good and strong on those restarts, and we were able to pick some guys off and get ourselves farther towards the front. I wasn’t sure what all was going to happen there when we came down pit road under green and then the caution came out, being a lap down and all that. I thought that kind of ruined our chances for being able to have a win today. But overall, just a lot of crazy things happened there at the end and got us in position to where we could capitalize on it.”
From the drop of the green flag, it seemed Kevin Harvick was headed for a dominant win at his favorite track, but that plan was derailed on lap 73, when a flat tire forced him to pit early. At one point, Harvick was one lap down and over 20 points below the cutoff line. But the winningest driver in ISM Raceway Cup Series history worked his way back from 29th to fifth, and earned a place in the Championship 4.
“We were leading the stage there, coming to the white [flag] and the tire goes flat,” said Harvick. “That just put us behind and dragged the bottom of the car off and the splitter, and everything up front was dragged off. That was really the turning point in our day to not have everything go right. But we got ourselves back in contention there, and we’re going in the right direction. We wound up just finding a spot at the end to just survive there and get to the finish.”
Threatening his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate’s title chances was Aric Almirola, who needed a win to move on to the final round. Almirola restarted with 12 laps to go in second place, but he was unable to catch Kyle Busch, ultimately finishing fourth and eliminated from the championship.
Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer were knocked out of the race by flat tires. Bowyer had needed to win to advance, while Logano was already locked into the Championship 4. Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott were two other title hopefuls in position to win at different points of the race, both fighting their way back to the front after pit road penalties. Both of their hopes were dashed in the same lap, when contact between Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin left Kurt Busch and Elliott with heavy damage.
Joining Kyle Busch, Logano and Harvick in next week’s fight at Homestead is defending series champion Martin Truex Jr., who finished in 14th place at ISM Raceway. Also finishing in the top five of the race were Brad Keselowski in second and Kyle Larson in third.
The Can-Am 500 marked the completion of ISM Raceway’s Opening Weekend following its $178 million modernization project. NASCAR will return to ISM Raceway in March 2019 for the TicketGuardian 500 weekend.
About ISM Raceway
Since 1964, ISM Raceway has been the premier motorsports venue in the Southwest. As part of a $178 million modernization project, the track officially became ISM Raceway in January 2018 as a result of a naming rights partnership with ISM Connect, a pioneer in smart venue technology bringing the digital fan engagement experience to Phoenix. Phoenix hosts two Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series weekends each year, beginning with the TicketGuardian 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race weekend on March 9, 10 and 11. The schedule is anchored by the Opening Weekend, on Nov. 9, 10 and 11, with the Can-Am 500, the semifinal race in NASCAR’s Playoffs after which the field is reduced to the final four championship contenders. For more information, visit www.ISMRaceway.com.