Kyle Busch has won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The #18 Joe Gibbs Racing driver started on pole position but had stiff competition from Martin Truex Jr for much of the race until an eight-car wreck intervened in the battle and took the #78 car out of contention.
The win see’s Kyle advance through to the next round of the playoffs that begin in two weeks time, but more importantly, it’s a successful rebound for his #18 team, having lost a potential race win a week ago at Chicagoland due to pit-lane penalties.
The defining moment of the race took place on the last lap of stage two. Kevin Harvick and Austin Dillon were running side-by-side out of turn two and made contact, sending Harvick into a spin which in turn produced a large cloud of tyre smoke that engulfed the entire width of the race track.
Harvick was sat in the middle of the track, stationary, with the field coming toward him unable to see him through the smoke. His Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate, Kurt Busch, was one of the first on the scene, with Busch smacking into the side of Harvick; thankfully at a reduced speed as most drivers had begun to slow down in anticipation of slow or stationary cars ahead. Both cars ended up wedged together due to the damage, with both having to retire from the race as a result.
A number of other cars also got damaged whilst checking up to avoid the cars ahead of them. Most notably, the Furniture Row Racing#78 of Truex Jr. Truex got light damage on his front-nose, but then got further and more substantial damage on the left-rear quarter panel when he reversed into Dale Earnhardt Jr‘s #88 Chevrolet whilst trying to get back going in the right direction. The damage necessitated repairs, which dropped Truex down the order and out of the fight for the lead with Kyle Busch.
A number of other playoff contenders suffered minor damage too. Austin Dillon was part of the initial contact with Harvick that caused the wreck, but he managed to escape much further damage. His Richard Childress Racing team-mate Ryan Newman was also in the midst of the melee but managed to get away with minor scuffs to his #31 Chevrolet. Denny Hamlin was the final playoff contender caught up in the incident. His #11 Toyota developed a loose wheel at the start of stage three that may or may not have been caused by the wreck. Non-playoff contenders involved included the likes of Danica Patrick‘s #10 and Jeffrey Earnhardt‘s #33 along with the aforementioned #88 of Earnhardt Jr.
One driver who miraculously escaped with not even a scratch on his car was Kyle Busch. He managed to just squeeze through the gap between Harvick and the wall to clear the wreck and to take the stage two victory half a lap later. After the wreck, all Kyle Busch really had to do was hold the lead on race restarts and then rebuild his advantage over the rest of the field. A number of cautions occurred in the final fifty laps of the race, but Busch managed to keep his nerve and his lead throughout to take his third win of the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series and his first of the playoffs; thus locking him into the next round in the process.
“That was pretty intense,” Busch said regarding the race-defining wreck, “That was some ‘Days of Thunder’ stuff over there. You couldn’t see anything. It was just a wall of smoke over there off of Turn 2. I was listening to my spotter and basically was told to stop, and I was like ‘Sounds like a good idea.’ I just checked up as much as I could. Of course, I was trying not to get run into from behind.”
“All in all, just a great day. We ran up front all day long, we executed, we did what we were supposed to do, and it’s awesome to win here in the Granite State in front of these fans.”
Kyle Larson tried his best to find a way in front of Busch on the late-race restarts, but in the end, he would have to settle for second place in his #42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Matt Kenseth would take third having followed Busch through the wreck, with Brad Keselowski taking a strong fourth in the #2 Team Penske Ford Fusion.
Martin Truex Jr’s damage in the wreck may not have ended his race, but it put him further back in the pack and out of contention for the win. He would nevertheless rally back to take a solid fifth place, but he very well could have been in victory lane had he managed to avoid the accident. His Furniture Row Racing team-mate, Erik Jones, would follow him home in sixth place.
Clint Bowyer struggled with the setup of his #14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet for much of the race, but he found himself right at the sharp end during the final segment. At one point he restarted alongside race-leader Kyle Busch, but he couldn’t maintain his top five position and wound up finishing in a solid seventh place. Daniel Suarez would finish just behind in eighth, with Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano rounding out the top ten.
Ten playoff contenders failed to finish inside the top ten, with six of those drivers taking positions eleven through sixteen. Chase Elliott drove a quiet race to take eleventh ahead of Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. Ricky Stenhouse Jr took fourteenth despite having started the race off by brushing the wall in his #17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Jamie McMurray would finish just behind Stenhouse, with the #1 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet driver taking sixteenth. Austin Dillon was a handful of positions further back in nineteenth place.
Kasey Kahne‘s hopes of making it through to the next round of the playoffs took a hit when his #5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet stopped on track late in the race. He would get his car back going, but he would finish all the way down in thirty-fifth place; the last car on-track at the finish. Classified as thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh were the retired cars of Harvick and Kurt Busch. Kurt and Kasey enter next week’s elimination race as two of the bottom four drivers along with Dillon and Newman.
Next week, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Dover International Speedway for the Apache Warrior 400 presented by Lucas Oil. The playoff-contending sixteen will be cut down to twelve, with the bottom four drivers ending their hopes of a championship by the end of the weekend.
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – New Hampshire race results:
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