Kyle Busch(18) won the pole for Tales-of-the-Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. He won it in dominating fashion at 187.963 mph. Almost 2 miles per hour faster than Denny Hamlin(11) at 186.168. Busch also dominated Stage One of the race, leading 78 of the 80 laps and lapping 2/3rds of the field. But then, the pressure of the playoffs became apparent on the pitstop during the stage ending caution period.
In the week leading up to the first race of the playoffs, Joe Gibbs Racing made a competitive decision. JGR replaced Kyle’s pit crew with the crew from Daniel Suarez’s(19) car. Suarez’s pit crew outperformed Busch’s crew during the regular season. So the move was designed to make the 18 car more competitive during the final 10 races that make up the playoff season.
As Busch pitted for tires and fuel preparing for the start of Stage Two, his new pit crew made a mistake. Leaving lug nuts loose during the stop. It did not take long for a wheel vibration to develop causing Busch to return to pit road at lap 100. During that pit stop his crew was over the wall too early, compounding the first error. As a result, Busch was forced to return to pit road again to serve a drive-through penalty. He exited the pits in 30th place, two laps down to the leaders.
Playoff contenders Ryan Blaney(21), Kasey Kahne(5), Ryan Newman(31), Austin Dillon(3), and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(17) all finished Stage One a lap down. With his pit troubles, Kyle Busch did not dominate Stage Two. However, Kevin Harvick(4) and Chase Elliott(24) shared the lead and kept most of the field at least 1 lap down. Elliott won the stage with just 13 cars finishing lap 160 on the lead lap.
Through the first two stages, playoff contenders Jimmie Johnson(48), Stenhouse Jr., Blaney, Newman, Kahne, and Dillon failed to earn a stage point. Harvick and Elliott both earned the most, 18 points. Emphasizing the importance of stage racing points in the playoffs. Kyle Busch gained one lap back and started the final stage just one lap down.
Harvick and Elliott raced to the lead at the beginning of the final stage. However, Martin Truex Jr.(78), the Playoff Points leader tracked the pair down and took the lead from Harvick on Lap 190. Over the next 20 laps, Truex built a three-second lead on Elliott who passed Harvick for second place. On lap 210 of 267, Truex’s teammate and Byron, Michigan native, Erik Jones(77) spun in turn 4 bringing out the caution flag. Truex, Harvick, and Elliott were the first three cars off pit road during yellow flag pit stops.
On the restart, Truex jumped to the lead and never looked back. He consistently built his advantage over Elliott. Finishing over seven seconds ahead of the 24 car. Harvick’s Ford Fusion placed third, Hamlin took fourth, and Kyle Larson(42) finished fifth. Teammates Brad Keselowski(2) and Joey Logano(22) finished sixth and seventh. Logano, the only non-playoff driver to make the top 10. Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson finished eighth, Matt Kenseth(20) ninth, and Jamie McMurray(1) 10th.
Martin Truex Jr. punches his ticket into the next round of the playoffs with his win. Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch are on the advancement bubble tied for 12th. Currently in elimination position are Stenhouse (4 points back), Kahne (5 points back), and Newman who sits 7 points behind the cut line. McMurray (5 points ahead), Blaney (8 points ahead), and Kenseth, who is 13 points ahead of the cut line, are currently set to advance. But, not safe by any means.
Next week it’s back to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the ISM Connect 300. Scheduled for a 2:00 pm start. Before round one of the playoffs conclude at Dover International Speedway the following Sunday, also set for a 2 o’clock start.
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