Kurt Busch Scores an Improbable Win at Las Vegas and Advances in Playoffs

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Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Las Vegas, NV — September 27, 2020

Round 2 of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs begins this evening at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Ford Mustang’s swept the Round of 16 with Kevin Harvick winning at Darlington and Bristol, Brad Keselowski winning at Richmond.

It is critical for drivers wanting to advance out of the Round of 12 to post a strong performance at Vegas. With Talladega and The Roval at Charlotte, as the next two races, it really could be anyone’s championship to win. Depending on how things shake out after tonight’s race.

Rank Driver Points Status Stage Wins Playoff Points
1 Kevin Harvick 3067* +62 7 67
2 Denny Hamlin 3048 +43 8 48
3 Brad Keselowski 3035* +30 7 35
4 Joey Logano 3022* +17 6 22
5 Chase Elliott 3021 +16 7 21
6 Martin Truex Jr. 3016 +11 4 16
7 Alex Bowman 3009 +4 4 9
8 Austin Dillon 3005 +0 0 5
Round 2 Cut Line
9 Aric Almirola 3005* 0 2 5
10 Kyle Busch 3004 -1 2 4
11 Clint Bowyer 3004* -1 3 4
12 Kurt Busch 3001 -4 1 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Harvick, Hamlin, and Keselowski have a big advantage with accumulated playoff points. Less than 10 points separate the last 6 spots with drivers having to finish 8th or better to advance.

Silly Season Updates

Things are heating up during the Silly Season as some pieces of the puzzle for 2021 begin to fall into place. After announcing earlier in the month that he would not return to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2021, Bubba Wallace was tabbed to be the driver for the new team being started by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin. The new team is said to have purchased the NASCAR Charter of Germain Racing.

Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announce they are forming a new NASCAR team with Bubba Wallace as their driver. Photo Courtesy of Denny Hamlin / Twitter

Said Wallace: “This is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I believe is a great fit for me at this point in my career. Both Michael and Denny are great competitors and are focused on building the best team they possibly can to go out and compete for race wins. I’m grateful and humbled that Michael and Denny believe in me and I’m super pumped to begin this adventure with them.”

Xfinity 2-time winner Ross Chastain was announced as the new driver for the #42 car of Chip Ganassi Racing. He takes over for Matt Kenseth, who came out of retirement to replace Kyle Larson after Larson was suspended by NASCAR earlier this season.

Today’s Race

The South Point 400 features 267 laps around the 1.5-mile speedway. Stages are 80/80/107 laps. Joey Logano(22) won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this year. Martin Truex Jr.(19) is the defending race champion. Kevin Harvick(4) starts on the pole, with Kyle Busch(18) starting beside him. Chase Elliott(9) and Aric Almirola(10) start in the 2nd row. A competition caution is set for Lap 25.

The Starting Grid at Las Vegas

Stage 1

Cars spread out three and four wide as they raced into Turn 1, Elliott had the lead by the time they returned to the start/finish line to complete Lap 1. He held the top spot until the competition caution put the field under yellow. The leaders all came to pit road for tires, fuel, and chassis adjustments. Kyle Busch won the race off pit road, followed by Harvick, Denny Hamlin(11), Logano, and Elliott.

Thanks to the “choose rule” Hamlin lined up on the inside of Busch and with a push from Logano they both passed the leader on the restart. Hamlin consistently pulled away from his pursuers easily took the win in Stage 1.

Denny Hamlin wins Stage 1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the South Point 400 / NASCAR Photo

Stage 1 Results

Position Car Driver Points
1 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 10
2 22 Joey Logano (P)* 9
3 18 Kyle Busch (P) 8
4 9 Chase Elliott (P) 7
5 4 Kevin Harvick (P)* 6
6 3 Austin Dillon (P) 5
7 12 Ryan Blaney* 4
8 88 Alex Bowman (P) 3
9 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) 2
10 14 Clint Bowyer (P)* 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Almirola, Kurt Busch(1), and Brad Keselowski(2) were the only playoff drivers not to capture points in Stage 1

Stage 2

Kyle Busch again led the field off pit road and Logano lined up beside him on the inside. For the 2nd restart in a row, the inside line prevailed as Logano took the lead in Turn 3. Coming out of Turn 4, Busch dove low and tried to grab the lead back. Logano drove to the bottom of the track trying to block the pass. Busch pulled even as they both washed up the track still battling door handle-to-door handle. Hamlin dove underneath both cars to make it three-wide, with Elliott following.

Logano and Bush collided, taking away their momentum. Elliott pushed Hamlin to the lead and four laps later Elliott drove past Denny to regain the top spot.

Last week as Kyle Busch was trying to run down Kevin Harvick late in the race at Bristol. Logano, a lapped car, held up Busch possibly costing Kyle a shot at the win. Both drivers were involved in a war of words during the week.

As a result of the collision, on the Stage 2 restart, both had damage to their cars. Logano got the worst of the deal causing a tire rub on the left rear that had to be addressed with a pit stop. Logano went a lap down. Busch suffered cosmetic damage to the right rear quarter panel that messed up the aerodynamics of the car. He was able to ride it out until the next scheduled pit stop for his crew to repair the damage.

Green flag pit stops started with 40 laps to go in the Stage. When the cars on the lead lap had cycled through their stops Elliott was back in the lead. Kyle Busch was 12th and Logano was a lap down.

With four laps left in the Stage, Hamlin closed to within a car length of the leader. But, Elliott was able to hold off the charge and take the Stage win.

Chase Elliott, the winner of Stage 2 in the South Point 400 from Las Vegas Motor Speedway / NASCAR Photo

Stage 2 Results

Position Car Driver Points
1 9 Chase Elliott (P) 10
2 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 9
3 88 Alex Bowman (P) 8
4 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) 7
5 12 Ryan Blaney* 6
6 3 Austin Dillon (P) 5
7 4 Kevin Harvick (P)* 4
8 14 Clint Bowyer (P)* 3
9 21 Matt DiBenedetto* 2
10 24 William Byron 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Kyle Busch, Almirola, Keselowski, Kurt Busch(1), and Logano failed to capture bonus points in the 2nd Stage.

The Final Stage

Hamlin and Alex Bowman(88) swapped the lead at the beginning of the Final Stage. Elliott made it a threesome, with Truex lurking in 4th. After Hamlin established the lead with some separation from Bowman, Elliott passed the #88 car for 2nd.

The caution flag waved on Lap 189 for debris on the track. Hamlin won the race off pit road and pulled away on the restart. With just 78 laps to go in the race, every position is important and the leaders were racing four-wide behind the leader.

With cars running on the edge of their fuel window, it will be interesting to see if the finish comes down to a fuel mileage battle. Austin Dillon was penalized for too many men over the wall during his pit stop and forced to the rear of the field. Austin had been running in the Top 10 all day. He came in just before the restart to top off with Sunoco Racing Fuel to see if they could stretch their fuel mileage to the end. Unfortunately, Dillon was forced to the pits a few laps after the restart his car lost the belt off the power steering and water pump.

Austin Dillon during a pit stop at Las Vegas / NASCAR Photo

Dillon returned to the race 7 laps down and in 34th position, seriously putting a wrinkle on his efforts to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

The Final Laps

The leaders began pitting with 36 laps to go, opting to come in a bit early for fresh tires instead of making a late gas and go stop, in the hopes of gaining speed from fresh tires. The strategy may have backfired as half of the lead lap cars had not pitted when Jimmie Johnson denoted a left rear tire covering the track with debris.

Kurt Busch was the only playoff leader to have stayed out and will restart at the front of the field as a result. The cars that pitted and were a lap down will take the wave around after the lead-lap cars pit and return to the track. This will scramble the running order.

Matt DiBenedetto(21) was on pit road when the caution flag came out and was able to get out before the pace car passed him, he inherited the lead. Kurt Busch was second, John Hunter Nemechek(38), Chris Buescher(17), and Christopher Bell(95) rounded out the top 5 when the race restarted with 25 laps to go.

After racing side-by-side for over a lap, Kurt Busch sat at the front as the former lead pack shuffled for positions well back in the field. With 20 laps to go, Bowman was the only other playoff driver in the Top 10, he was 10th.

Late Caution

Nemechek spun with 17 laps to go and headed up the banking of the track. Kyle Busch just squeaked by, Erik Jones(20) pushed Ricky Stenhouse(47) into the wall as they both swerved high to miss the #38 car. The caution made Logano the “luck dog” and he returned to the lead lap. Every playoff driver except Kurt Busch, Bowman, Elliott, and Bowyer came to pit road. Elliott moved to 10th, Bowyer 12th, and Hamlin 13, for the restart with 12 laps to go.

Kurt Busch got a huge jump and crossed over in front of DiBenedetto. With 8 laps to go, Bell hit the wall on the backstretch, his right rear tire went down on near the flag stand and William Byron(24) ran into the back of Bell. Byron spun, tore up the front of his car, and brought out the caution with 7 laps to go.

The Top 5 to the restart with 2 laps to go were Kurt Busch, DiBenedetto, Bowman, Hamlin, and Ryan Blaney(12) as the race transitions into overtime. Keselowski, Elliott, and Truex were back in the Top 10.

Kurt Busch launched quickly again and cleared DiBenedetto, Hamlin dove from the top to the bottom of the track and passed DiBenedetto for 2nd but could not hold the line. Busch was never seriously threatened over the green-white-checker finish. He entered last in the playoff standings and with the win leaves at the top, earning a spot in the Round of 8.

Playoff Standings

Obviously, the big winner was Kurt Busch. He advanced when he was staring at the real possibility of elimination at the end of the round. The biggest loser, Austin Dillon. After great runs in Round 1, Dillon had a mechanical failure, and even though his crew was able to repair it he finished 32nd. Kyle Busch dropped below the cut line and Alex Bowman sits on the bubble despite finishing in the Top 10.

With Talladega next Sunday, no one is out of the chase for the 8 spots that move on to Round 3. Carnage happens quickly at NASCAR’s biggest track, avoid the “big one” and you might be in a position to advance.

Kurt Busch, The winner at Vegas / NASCAR Photo
Rank Driver Points Status
1 Kurt Busch 3041 Advances-Win
2 Kevin Harvick* 3104 +61
3 Denny Hamlin 3101 +58
4 Brad Keselowski* 3059 +16
5 Martin Truex Jr. 3058 +15
6 Joey Logano* 3054 +11
7 Chase Elliott 3053 +10
8 Alex Bowman 3052 +9
Round 2 Cut Line
9 Kyle Busch 3043 -9
10 Clint Bowyer* 3032 -20
11 Aric Almirola* 3025 -27
12 Austin Dillon 3025 -27

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Results of the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Position Car Driver Behind Laps
1 1 Kurt Busch (P) 268
2 21 Matt DiBenedetto 0.148 268
3 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 0.274 268
4 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) 0.403 268
5 88 Alex Bowman (P) 0.428 268
6 18 Kyle Busch (P) 0.596 268
7 12 Ryan Blaney 0.605 268
8 20 Erik Jones 1.004 268
9 17 Chris Buescher 1.024 268
10 4 Kevin Harvick (P) 1.182 268
11 48 Jimmie Johnson 1.258 268
12 14 Clint Bowyer (P) 1.324 268
13 2 Brad Keselowski (P) 1.398 268
14 22 Joey Logano (P) 1.515 268
15 6 Ryan Newman 1.558 268
16 41 Cole Custer 1.710 268
17 10 Aric Almirola (P) 1.737 268
18 42 Matt Kenseth 1.862 268
19 37 Ryan Preece 2.063 268
20 38 John Hunter Nemechek 2.065 268
21 34 Michael McDowell 2.155 268
22 9 Chase Elliott (P) 2.305 268
23 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 2.907 268
24 95 Christopher Bell 2.949 268
25 24 William Byron 3.071 268
26 13 Ty Dillon -1 267
27 32 Corey LaJoie -1 267
28 43 Bubba Wallace -2 266
29 96 Daniel Suarez -3 265
30 15 Brennan Poole -3 265
31 27 Gray Gaulding -6 262
32 3 Austin Dillon (P) -7 261
33 77 JJ Yeley -7 261
34 0 Quin Houff -9 259
35 51 Joey Gase -12 256
36 53 Josh Bilicki -41 227
37 66 Timmy Hill -108 160
38 8 Tyler Reddick -111 157
39 49 Chad Finchum -249 19