Kyle Busch has taken victory in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Apache Warrior 400 presented by Lucas Oil at Dover International Speedway. Busch passed former race-leader Chase Elliott as they came to start the final lap of the race; with Busch claiming his second win in a row and his fourth of 2017.
The race was the final round of the first set of playoff eliminations. Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch were the first four drivers eliminated from championship contention.
Having worked his way up to the front from a starting position of twelfth, Elliott’s #24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet led much of the final stage of the race. But it was during the final forty laps that his lead began to erode. Kyle Busch had been four seconds behind, but lap after lap he was starting to close in.
Within the final ten laps, Busch was within a second and starting to challenge. Elliott started to encounter lapped traffic but with a handful of laps remaining, he found his toughest customer. Ryan Newman, a fellow playoff contender who was in serious danger of being eliminated from championship contention going into the elimination race, was desperate to stay on the lead lap so that he would have a chance of gaining positions should a late caution occur. As a result, he refused to let Elliott by; which he was perfectly entitled to do.
With Elliott unable to get by, Busch gained ever closer. On the penultimate lap, he made his move. Busch managed to get a run on Elliott on the outside of turns three and four, with the momentum going Kyle’s way on the exit of the corner. He would take the lead and the white flag at virtually the same time and would go on to run the final lap unopposed.
Kyle would cross the line on lap 400 to take his fourth win of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It’s also his second win of the playoffs and his second win in succession having gone to victory lane a week ago in New Hampshire.
“Man, I saw that carrot out there, and I wanted to go and get it,” said Busch of his charge toward Elliott at the end of the race, “I got within five lengths and I stalled out and I was like, ‘Oh, man, I think that was it,’ you know? But I got back to the top and got enough momentum back rolling. Chase was kind of plugged up with the lapped cars in front of him, so I think the lapped cars actually helped us with that one.”
Elliott, who was visibly disheartened at yet another chance of victory having escaped him, held on to take second place. But he blamed himself entirely in post-race interviews:
“I thought if I had a clean track, I could have run as fast as he did, but I didn’t, and I should have done something different,” said Elliott, “So that’s just on me, and he did a better job than I did. At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to…
“Man, such a bummer, such a disappointment for my team. I don’t really have a whole lot to add.”
Elliott’s only consolation will be that over the last few weeks, his and Hendrick Motorsport’s pace has improved greatly. This is further emphasized by the third-place finish of his team-mate, eleven-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson; who similarly climbed his way through the order during the race to get the top five finish.
Pole-sitter, Martin Truex Jr, took fourth place. He didn’t appear to have the adequate race pace in his #78 Furniture Row Racing Camry to be able to challenge for much of the race; only leading for fifty-one laps. Kyle Larson would follow him home in fifth place, having led much of the early proceedings before handing over to Elliott.
Three non-playoff contenders would work their way into the top ten, with Clint Bowyer leading Dale Earnhardt Jr and Daniel Suarez to take positions six, seven and eight respectively. Jamie McMurray would follow in ninth place, a critical result in the race that could have seen him eliminated from the playoffs. The finish allowed him to advance to the next round.
Brad Keselowski finished in the final spot in the top ten. He had managed to capitalize on a red flag in the first stage to get the stage win, but his #2 Team Penske didn’t have the pace to stay up at the front. Matt Kenseth would finish just behind in twelfth for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Ryan Newman’s dogged defence against Chase Elliott in the closing laps would not help his playoff chances. He would finish in thirteenth place, but the points would not be enough to bridge the gap to his fellow contenders ahead. His defence against the #24 would also earn him a passing comment from its former driver Jeff Gordon post-race, with the pair confronting each other on pit-road for some strong words. They seemed to have put their differences aside later on, however.
Kasey Kahne and Austin Dillon would finish not far off of the back of Newman in positions fourteen and sixteen and would also find themselves eliminated from the playoffs having not been able to perform well enough during the first three race round.
Kevin Harvick would take an unassuming seventeenth place, but he would manage to advance based on his former finishes. Nevertheless, he and the #4 Stewart-Haas Racing team will know they have to up their game if they are to get any further in the championship. This point was proven by team-mate Kurt Busch, who was eliminated in the #41 after failing to perform having previously been touted as a potential dark horse for the title. Kurt would take twentieth place behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr in nineteenth; who just edged out his rivals to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Ryan Blaney would be the penultimate playoff contender on the scoreboard after a disappointing twenty-third place in the #21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford Fusion. The only contender behind would be the #11 of Denny Hamlin, who failed to finish after his #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Camry after an axle failure in the final stage of the race.
With the first four drivers eliminated, twelve will advance to the next round of the playoffs that begin next weekend. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will head to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Bank of America 500 with races at Talladega and Kansas making up the other two races of the round.
2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Apache Warrior 400 – race results:
[table id=2556 /]
(P) = Playoff contender