Kyle Busch sweeps the weekend at ISM Raceway to win the TicketGuardian 500 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“Man, that makes last week feel so much stupider (after Busch lost the chance at a sweep at his hometown of Las Vegas when he was penalized for speeding on pit road). I wish we could have swept last week too. That would have been pretty awesome to start this season with two sweeps in a row,” said Busch, who led a race-high 177 of 312 laps on Sunday.
Busch faced a late race charge to pass pole sitter and Stage One winner Ryan Blaney, who was in fuel conservation shortly after, and held off a fast charging teammate Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps.
“I knew before we went back green (on the last run), that we were going to be right on the verge (of running out of fuel),” Busch said. “You got to go race hard first and then you have to worry about fuel afterwards.”
Truex marched through the field in the last green flag run, but ran out of time to finish second, putting Joe Gibbs Racing in the top-two spots.
“We were at least second-place car at the end, I felt,” Truex said. “We deserved to be up there.”
Despite grabbing the pole, running strong across all practice sessions and winning the first stage, a mishap on pit road for the third race in a row put Blaney behind in the second half of the race. Last minute pit strategy put him in great contention for the win but he finished third. This was the first top five of the season for the No. 12 team after starting the year finishing 22nd or worse in the opening three races.
“I was kind of riding, trying to save tires, trying to save gas,” said Blaney, who opted for two tires and track position on his final stop. “I think [Busch] was kind of riding back there, too. He knew what situation I was in. I started to get real tight and we got to lapped cars and I was done.
“It definitely was a good weekend after the start of the year we had. A good day, the day we needed. We’ve been poised to have days like this and contend for wins and it just hasn’t happened this year. This is what we deserve.”
Aric Almirola and Denny Hamlin completed the top five. Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick
Blaney Claims a Caution-Filled Stage One
At the start of the race, Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott started side-by-side, but on the initial start, Elliott beat Blaney by a nose to the line as the field took the green. That is a rule violation for the initial start, so Elliott had to serve a pass-through penalty. Elliott was technically out front for the opening couple laps, but Blaney was credited as the leader for the first 30 laps. Elliott stayed on the lead lap, about five seconds in front of the leaders.
On Lap 37, Erik Jones had reported a vibration, as his right-rear tire let go and the No. 20 Toyota slapped the outside wall. The damage looked minimal, so the Joe Gibbs Racing driver brought his vehicle to pit road for service and he continued on in the race. Everyone visited pit road, with a few drivers electing for two tires. Two penalties were handed out for speeding to Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman.
On the restart, four tires appeared to dominate over two tires, but as the run went on it appeared that two tires didn’t lose much ground in the long run compared to the competitors taking four tires. Later in the run, Brad Keselowski reported something mechanical broken on the car as he spun through the turn. Ryan Preece was close to collision, but was able to avoid the wreck with a last second maneuver.
When the field took the green with only a handful of laps left in the first stage, Blaney elected to take the top lane to reclaim the lead. In the middle of the field, everyone was aggressive to grab what positions they could on the restart, even racing four-wide in the first turn. Blaney would win the first stage over Aric Almirola and Joey Logano.
Kyle Busch Dominates the Second Stage
The pit road strategy continued into the second stage as drivers elected a little of everything. Some teams stayed out, Ty Dillon was first off pit road with fuel only, some cars took two tires and others took four. After the shuffle was complete, Keselowski would claim the Lucky Dog and get the free pass, but with an extended stay on pit road would go back one lap down. Daniel Suarez would be the other car one lap down after a stall on the track during a yellow flag session.
The field took the green with the front dozen staying on track, and Kyle Busch would claim the top spot from Denny Hamlin five laps into the run. With three laps to go, Bowman had a tire failure and kept it off the wall, but not off the track in time and the yellow flag was displayed. There was no free pass because Bowman was the first car one lap down but brought out the yellow flag. Kyle Busch would claim the second stage over Clint Bowyer.
Strategies Shuffle During Final Stage at ISM Raceway
On the restart, the field scattered even more as the middle of the pack went four-wide, two deep on the first lap. A lap and a half in, McDowell had a mechanical failure that resulted in a flat tire going into Turn 3. The car hit the outside wall, and the race went back under yellow. He would later report that he had a stuck throttle on the back stretch.
“As I got on the back straightaway the throttle pedal was gone. I was just wide open,” McDowell said. “I tried to jam on the brakes as hard as I could. I was just trying to do everything I could to get it shut off, and yeah, really unfortunate for us today.”
The field took the green flag with just under 150 laps to go, and everyone took this restart much more calmly. Kyle Busch continued to lead over Bowyer, Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Logano with 20 cars on the lead lap.
The right side tire failures continued throughout the day as Bowman lost another right front going into Turn 3 on Lap 193. This time around, the damage looked fatal when he came to pit road.
As the race approached 100 laps to go, the various strategies started to surface. Johnson took two tires and was running second when battling with Bowyer. Harvick’s team worked on his car all day and found themselves in fourth. Elliott realized he had a problem and spun through Turn 3 but made no contact with the wall. Under yellow, everyone elected to come to pit road. Austin Dillon took fuel only, about 10 cars took two tires and the rest of the field took four fresh tires.
As the field took the green, Hemric stayed out of pit road and led the field to the green. The field was five-wide at one point, and Ryan Preece would spin to hit the inside wall on the backstretch. Keselowski also collected some damage from scraping the inside wall avoiding Preece. At this point, many drivers and teams started to communicate about fuel strategy, since everyone would be close on fuel with the remaining distance of the race.
A short green flag run ended when Preece dropped some debris in Turn 1 to bring out the yellow quickly once again. Hemric, Harvick
The next race for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be held at Auto Club Speedway on March 17 for the Auto Club 400.