Kyle Busch Victorious in the Can-Am 500, Championship 4 Set

Kyle Busch won at ISM Raceway in the Can-Am 500 as the Championship 4 is set for the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series. It was his eighth victory of the season and the 51st of his Cup career.

“I’d like to think it gives us a lot (of momentum), but I don’t know – talk is cheap,” said Busch in the newly designed Gatorade Victory Lane, a part of the $178 million renovation project at the 1-mile raceway. “We’ve got to be able to go out there and perform and just do what we need to do. Being able to do what we did here today was certainly beneficial. I didn’t think we were the best car, but we survived and we did what we needed to do today. It’s just about getting to next week and once we were locked in, it was ‘all bets are off and it’s time to go.’”

Adam Stevens, crew chief for the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota, and team owner Joe Gibbs addressed the media as they head into the final race of the 2018 season.

American Muscle

“Well, I think it’s important to come into the last race firing on all cylinders,” Stevens said about today’s victory. “And it’s hard to do that when you’re just riding around trying to score points. It’s not like we were throwing caution to the wind by any means. The job that we set out to do is to win the championship, and to do that you’ve got to beat them all.”

Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano will join Busch in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Logano crashed early in the race and did not join the others in the press conference.

“We just got a little bit of luck, a little bit of ‘right place, right time’ kinda thing,” Truex shared when discussing the various wrecks that happened in front of him. “One last hurrah next week and we’re gonna go give ’em all we got.”

“I think we have a chance every time we show up,” Harvick shared assessing his chances to win his second career Cup championship. “Our guys are doing a great job. Obviously, to accomplish everything we did this weekend was quite the feat without your crew chief and car chief, but Tony Gibson and Nick did a great job filling in. Everybody kept their head about them and we were competitive all weekend.”

William Byron also locked up the Rookie of the Year standings with his ninth-place effort.

“I take away my growth as a person and our growth as a team,” Byron told the media. “I think of road course races were really good. I feel like I’m in a good position for next year.”

Harvick-Chase Battle Creates Early Drama in Stage 1

The first two stages were split by 75 laps each. The remaining 162 laps would be scheduled for the final stage. As the green flag dropped, Harvick would show the way early, but throughout most of the run, Elliott was within a second of him. After the race last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, most of the bottom four drivers were in a must-win situation. But since Wednesday’s announcement of Harvick’s penalty, there was hope for some drivers to possibly sneak in on points.

About 20 laps into the race, Elliott started inching his way closer to the rear bumper of Harvick, but as they started to approach lapped traffic, Harvick looked to claw his way through the field better and was able to put some distance between them. Elliott was completely silent on the radio, presumably happy with the handling of his Napa Chevrolet.

With three laps to go, tragedy struck for Harvick as he had a flat tire and had to come to pit road. Elliott inherited the lead and won Stage 1. Kurt Busch and Kyle Busch also finished in the top-10 and gained valuable bonus points. Elliott won the battle off pit road. Paul Menard stayed on pit road as the team lifted the hood and appeared to begin examining the engine. Harvick ended up going one lap down, and since he pit after pit road was closed (two laps to go in the stage), he was not eligible for the free pass under yellow, or the wave-around. At this point, Harvick and Truex would be knocked out of the Championship 4; Truex and Kurt Busch were tied in points, but Busch wins the tie-breaker with a better finish because he was second at this time, despite Truex finishing third at Martinsville.

Kurt Busch Shows Strength in Stage 2

On the restart, Kurt Busch fought hard on the outside to take over the lead from Chase Elliott. Elliott then had to fight off Ryan Blaney for a couple of laps but eventually settled into the second position.

With about 55 laps to go in the stage, Harvick made his way into the “Lucky Dog” position. One lap later, Joey Logano got a flat left-rear tire and crashed going into Turn 1. He is already locked in with his win at Martinsville, but this helped Harvick get himself back onto the lead lap. However, the carnage was just beginning.

Clint Bowyer crashes at the entrance to Turn 3, then drives away. Photo by Rachel Schuoler for Speedway Media.
Clint Bowyer crashes at the entrance to Turn 3, then drives away. Photo by Rachel Schuoler for Speedway Media.

With roughly 30 laps to go, Clint Bowyer crashed to bring out the yellow, ending his championship hopes. On pit road, lots of strategies took place, including a penalty. Roughly eight of the lead lap cars elected not to pit, but most of the other leaders came to pit road. Kurt Busch was caught passing the pace car and served a one-lap penalty.

It was addressed in the driver’s meeting, and we’ve seen similar penalties throughout the year. When entering pit road, the leader usually accelerates to create a gap between their car and the cars behind, a slight advantage that can be huge in certain circumstances. However, the leader is not allowed to pass the pace car before entering pit road. In this case, the nose of the No. 41 Haas Automation Ford was just ahead of the pace car before the first yellow line signaling the start of pit road. Even though he was in the lead at the time of the yellow, and won the battle off pit road, he would be served a penalty that would put their team one lap down.

Kyle Busch was one of the first cars out with fresh tires. He easily took over the top spot a couple of laps into the restart, winning Stage 2. Martin Truex Jr. finished third, and Kevin Harvick battled his way back up to the fourth position, making the “Big 3” the big discussion once again. Some of the leaders stayed out, preventing a “free pass” car and keeping Kurt Busch one lap down. Other drivers on older tires came to pit road for either two or four tires.

Championship Contenders Go Wild in the Final Stage

The field races through the new Turns 3 & 4 after one lap taking the green flag for a restart at ISM Raceway. Photo by Rachel Schuoler for Speedway Media.

With 160 laps to go, Kyle Busch would keep the lead ahead of Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. At this time, most of the championship contenders were running in the top-11, except for Logano and Bowyer, who was out of the race. Kurt Busch was still stuck one lap down in the “Lucky Dog” position.

Green flag pit stops began as the race approached 85 laps to go. During some of the pit stops, including while Harvick was on pit road, Tanner Berryhill spun at the entrance of pit road. He did a great job of correcting the car to continue on, but not before NASCAR had to throw a yellow flag. The rest of the field came to pit road, but Elliott sped on pit road, forcing his No. 9 car to the rear of the field. Kurt Busch was the “Lucky Dog”, but most of the field elected for the wave-around.

On the restart, the Playoffs started to come into play for every point possible. We saw the field go three, even four wide in the dogleg. Blaney slowed suddenly and came to pit road. Harvick continued to claw his way up along with teammate Kurt Busch. As the two were getting around the lapped car of David Ragan, he appeared to slip entering Turn 3. Harvick misjudged his speed and got into the rear of Ragan and spun him out to bring out the sixth caution flag. A couple of drivers were toward the end of the field, but Kyle Busch visited pit road so his crew could examine some minor damage as he was outside of Harvick during that contact.

The field took the green again for a few laps, and just when the race seemed to mellow for a brief moment, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took a hard hit to the outside wall in Turn 1. The rear end of the car was completely destroyed and even a brief fire ensued while he was still spinning. NASCAR displayed the red flag for 10 minutes with so much fluid coming from the No. 17. At this time, Kurt Busch was one point ahead of Harvick for the fourth and final Championship spot. However, that would quickly change.

As the field took the green, Erik Jones started to the inside of Kurt Busch but Jones got loose in the middle of Turns 1 & 2, forcing Busch up the track slightly. No harm was done, but Denny Hamlin made an aggressive move to get by both drivers. He couldn’t clear Busch in time and pinched him in the wall. However, with the championship on the line, Busch didn’t back out and stayed in the throttle. As he bounced off the wall, he continued to collide with Hamlin, eventually spinning him out and collecting Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott along the backstretch. That eventually ended the day for Busch as the damage clock expired, and his brother Kyle Busch officially locked himself into the Championship 4 on points. Elliott rejoined the track and was able to maintain minimum speed, but ran three laps down in the 24th position.

The sun sets behind the grandstands as Kyle Busch pulls away to his 51st career NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series win. Photo by Rachel Schuoler for Speedway Media.

The Cup drivers went racing again with about 30 laps to go. However, with all the nose damage on Bowman’s No. 88 Chevrolet, he went up in a ball of fire and smoke at the end of the frontstretch, causing him to crash in Turn 2 alongside pit entrance. NASCAR had to throw another red flag to clean up the incident. At this point, Harvick was back in the good on points. Aric Almirola was the only other driver left that could steal a spot in the Championship 4 if he won at ISM Raceway. Almirola was running fourth at the time when the field went back under yellow. Some of the leaders elected for a pit stop, including Kyle Larson, who took four tires and would restart in the eighth position.

This restart would be the first time for the Cup Series facing speedy dry in Turns 1 and 2. On Friday night, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race had a restart with speedy dry in the first set of turns that prevented Grant Enfinger from getting a strong restart against Noah Gragson and Brett Moffitt. However, this wouldn’t faze Kyle Busch as he pulled away from a hard-charging Almirola but he got a second chance as Berryhill crashed to bring out another caution flag on the track.

With about 15 laps to go, the field took the green flag but Almirola appeared to just not have the right setup to run with Kyle Busch on the outside. Brad Keselowski tried to push him through to the front, but that caused Almirola to go wide through Turns 1 and 2. Keselowski was able to get by both him and Harvick to put a late race charge toward the lead, but there just wasn’t enough time to catch Busch.

It certainly feels really good, Busch said in the media center after celebrating his win with the fans. It feels good to go off into next week with a win under our belt and hopefully do it again.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race
Unofficial Race Results for the 31St Annual Can-Am 500 – Sunday, November 11, 2018
ISM Raceway – Avondale, AZ – 1 Mile Paved

Pos St Car Driver Team Make
1 6 18 Kyle Busch (P) M&M’s Toyota
2 12 2 Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Holiday Knitwear Ford
3 8 42 Kyle Larson DC Solar Chevrolet
4 18 10 Aric Almirola (P) Smithfield Ford
5 1 4 Kevin Harvick (P) Busch Light Ford
6 21 1 Jamie McMurray Cessna Chevrolet
7 17 6 Matt Kenseth Wyndham Rewards Ford
8 15 3 Austin Dillon American Ethanol e15 Chevrolet
9 19 24 William Byron # Hertz Chevrolet
10 30 43 Bubba Wallace # U.S. Air Force Chevrolet
11 22 31 Ryan Newman Cat Global Mining Chevrolet
12 24 47 AJ Allmendinger Kroger ClickList Chevrolet
13 10 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Ground Toyota
14 13 78 Martin Truex Jr. (P) Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota
15 20 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe’s Power of Pride Chevrolet
16 23 34 Michael McDowell Love’s/Luber Finer Ford
17 7 20 Erik Jones Sirius XM Toyota
18 25 37 Chris Buescher Gain Chevrolet
19 28 13 Ty Dillon GEICO Military Chevrolet
20 31 38 David Ragan Trident Seafoods Wild Alaska Pollock Ford
21 27 32 Matt DiBenedetto Can-Am/Wholey Ford
22 29 95 Regan Smith Procore Chevrolet
23 2 9 Chase Elliott (P) NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet
24 33 15 Ross Chastain(i) Ternio Chevrolet
25 34 72 Cole Whitt Standard Plumbing Supply Chevrolet
26 32 00 Landon Cassill(i) StarCom Fiber Chevrolet
27 38 7 * DJ Kennington(i) APC/Northern Provincial Pipelines Chevrolet
28 39 51 Cody Ware JacobCo/BanyanCayGolfClub&Resort Chevrolet
29 11 21 Paul Menard Menards/Cardell Ford
30 5 88 Alex Bowman Axalta Chevrolet
31 36 97 * Tanner Berryhill Toyota
32 14 41 Kurt Busch (P) Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford
33 3 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ford Ford
34 4 12 Ryan Blaney PPG Ford
35 16 14 Clint Bowyer (P) ITsavvy Ford
36 26 19 Daniel Suarez STANLEY Toyota
37 9 22 Joey Logano (P) Shell Pennzoil Ford
38 35 23 JJ Yeley(i) She Beverage Company Toyota
39 37 66 * Timmy Hill(i) Toyota

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