While rookie Cole Custer emerged on top in a four-wide sprint for the win in Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney concluded their strong performances throughout the race with finishes inside the top 10 as Busch took fifth while Blaney ended up sixth after contending for the victory in two laps.
For Busch, who started seventh based on a random draw, the race at Kentucky provided the former Cup champion an opportunity for him and his No. 1 Monster Energy/Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team to snap a 36-race winless drought that spans back to July 2019 at, ironically, Kentucky. Through the first 25 laps, at the time the competition caution flew, Busch had fallen back to 11th while reporting loose conditions to his car. Following his first pit stop of the race, he restarted 12th and was able to work his way back into the top 10, running eighth on Lap 45. When the first stage concluded on Lap 80, Busch would retain eighth place on track.
Throughout the second stage, Busch raced just outside the top 10 and concluded the stage in 12th while his teammate Matt Kenseth, who had cut a tire and spun in the closing laps of the stage, was mired back in 26th, one lap behind the leaders. Throughout the final stage, Busch worked his way back into the top 10 and was lined up in fourth with 30 laps remaining. Through a series of late cautions and restarts, one of which involving teammate Kenseth spinning a second time, Busch was lined up in fifth with two laps remaining and was in contention of making a late charge and repeating his magic at Kentucky from last season. When the checkered flag waved, Busch crossed the line in fifth and fell four spots short of claiming his first Cup win of the season. Nonetheless, the fifth-place result marked Busch’s fourth top-five finish of the 2020 campaign and the result kept him in 10th in the regular-season standings, 104 points above the top-16 cutline to the Playoffs.
“It was a good battle,” Busch said on PRN Radio. “I thought we were better on the long run. All those restarts, at the end, made it tough, but all in all, we battled really well with our Monster Energy Chevy. Just ended up fifth. Just didn’t rekindle that magic that we had last year on a Saturday night, but we’ll take it.”
Unlike Busch, Blaney’s race was eventful. Starting 11th based on a random draw, Blaney worked his way from a slow start on the inside lane to 10th when the competition caution flew on Lap 25. When the race resumed under green, Blaney was able to muscle his No. 12 Advance Auto Parts/Team Penske Ford Mustang up to fourth. Then, an early scare occurred for Blaney when his car popped out of gear, which cost him two spots back to sixth. Despite the issue, Blaney was able to navigate the remainder of the first stage with one hand on the steering wheel with the other holding the gear as high as possible to keep the car running, ultimately finishing fifth.
Throughout the second stage, Blaney remained in contention for the lead and on Lap 138, he was able to lead for the first time after passing Aric Almirola. Following a caution that occurred when most of the leaders, including Blaney, completed pit stops under green, he restarted alongside teammate Brad Keselowski in a one-lap shootout for the second stage win. Though Blaney gained a run on the final corner, he was edged by his teammate for the stage win.
Restarting second for the final stage, Blaney kept his No. 12 Ford in contention for the win while battling Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. Following another round of pit stops under green, late restarts and cautions, Blaney was able to squeak ahead of Truex with 19 laps remaining to reassume the lead. On the ensuing restart, Kevin Harvick joined the battle and a late three-wide battle dropped Blaney back to third. Following another late caution that set up a two-lap dash to the finish, Blaney received a final opportunity to take back the lead on the final lap, but he, along with Harvick and Truex, would be overtaken by rookie Cole Custer, for the lead on the final lap. Through the frontstretch, Blaney bounced off a small bump below the apron, which nearly turned Blaney sideways as he made contact with Harvick. Though Blaney was able to straighten his car and continue, his opportunity for the win disappeared as he, ultimately, crossed the line in sixth. The result marked Blaney’s eighth top-10 result of the season as he is third in the regular-season standings, trailing Harvick by 95 points. He is guaranteed a spot in this year’s Playoffs by virtue of his win at Talladega Superspeedway in June.
“We had a really fast car,” Blaney said on PRN Radio. “We were racing [Truex]. We lost the lead there just by sheer caution luck or unlucky with us at the end of that second stage. Then, we lost control of the race after that. I had to restart on the bottom, couldn’t really get back to the lead. You just let [Truex] get away. Finally, a quick caution came out, we were a nose ahead of [Truex]. I was like, ‘Alright, this is what we got to do.’ Restarting on the top and I felt pretty good about it, and he got put three wide. It put me a top of three and just, lost the lead, went to third. Then, we were a bottom of four for the lead there and I didn’t realize there was a jump. You’d think they repaved this place, it wouldn’t be like that. But, I’ve never really run down there. There was a massive jump and I can’t believe that me and [Harvick] didn’t wreck. I didn’t expect that, but overall, not a bad day for our Advance Auto Parts Ford Mustang. We had winning speed, just couldn’t the breaks we need. The car was driving pretty good one handed.”
Busch and Blaney will return for the upcoming NASCAR All-Star Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on July 15, which will air at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1.