Kyle Busch is on a roll. Regardless of where he starts, he can move his way up the field to take the win, and Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway is proof. With strong restarts late in the race, he drove away to score his third consecutive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory.
For his 450th Cup start, Martin Truex Jr. started the race on the pole alongside Chase Elliott. Meanwhile, Busch started in thirty-second following a poor qualifying session in which his team elected to save his tires with the expectation of tire grip falloff, but said plan failed. It marked Busch’s worst qualifying effort since he started thirty-fourth at Texas Motor Speedway in the spring 2017 race.
Truex led early as Elliott fell to fourth after three laps, with Joey Logano taking second. As Truex began forming a considerable margin over Logano, Busch began his move through the grid, cracking the top twenty by lap nine.
On lap 23, Jimmie Johnson hit the wall in turn two for minor right-side damage, but no caution was called. At the front, Logano closed in on Truex and took the lead on lap 39. Two laps later, Busch was up to ninth. As the race entered the 60-lap range, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola passed Truex, who began to downslide. By lap 83, he was out of the top five entirely. Almirola attempted to catch up to Logano, but could not do so as Logano won his second career stage and first of 2018. Behind him and Almirola were Kurt Busch, William Byron, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Elliott, Austin Dillon, Truex, and Kevin Harvick.
Logano won the race off pit road, while Almirola lost four spots after his car fell off its jack and Harvick was penalized for his crewmen throwing equipment. Logano and Kurt Busch comprised the front row for the lap 112 restart, and the latter’s outside lane had the advantage to take the lead. Busch’s Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Bowyer, along with Kyle Busch, passed Logano for second.
On lap 156, Jamie McMurray, Kasey Kahne and Michael McDowell began green flag pit stops, with Trevor Bayne following. Bowyer took the lead on lap 169, though Logano mounted a comeback to retake first with seven laps in the second stage to score another stage win. Bowyer finished second, followed by Almirola, Kurt Busch, Byron, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski, Truex, and Harvick.
After pitting between stages, Logano remained the leader next to Kurt Busch, while Bowman and Byron were penalized for being too fast on pit road, while Newman was punished for an uncontrolled tire. Busch led the restart on lap 213, leading until Bowyer passed him on lap 252. Bowyer’s advantage over Busch slowly increased; by lap 264, it was more than two seconds. Busch eventually plummeted to fourth when Truex and Harvick overtook him.
The next run of green flag stops commenced on lap 268 when Darrell Wallace Jr. was the first to hit pit road. Kyle Larson, McMurray, and Ryan Blaney followed, as do Truex, Logano, and the other leaders within five laps. Kyle Busch briefly led until he pitted, which cycled Denny Hamlin into the lead. After Hamlin pitted, Truex became the leader once again. On pit road, Kurt Busch lost considerable progress when Daniel Suárez ran over his rear tire changer’s air hose and pit gun, leading to a slower stop; he was shuffled down to ninth.
On lap 314: Harvick passed Bowyer for second and started moving in on Truex. The two battled for the lead, with Harvick triumphing on lap 324. With 70 laps remaining in the race, Logano pitted, followed by Harvick and Bowyer two laps later. Eventually, all lead lap cars beside Hamlin and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had pitted, but the former’s attempt to do so was interrupted by David Ragan obstructing his path to the pit entrance. Hamlin would finally pit on lap 334, sending Truex back into first.
Though the first three quarters of the race ran caution-free, the final 100 laps were not safe from chaos. On lap 353, Blaney and Cole Whitt spun in turn four, with the former clipping Stenhouse. Keselowski dipped near the pit wall to squeeze past Stenhouse and avoid damage. Truex remained in first after leading the field off the pits.
The restart took place with 39 laps remaining as Truex’s inside lane pulled ahead of Harvick’s outside. Seven laps later, McMurray – racing Kurt Busch – hit the wall. Newman rammed into McMurray’s back, while Larson dodged the #31. Shortly after the caution flag came out, McMurray bumped into Larson, a move that left his Chip Ganassi Racing team-mate perplexed on the radio.
Kyle Busch became the new leader for the next green flag on lap 379. As he pulled away, Johnson, Suárez, and Erik Jones nearly wrecked as they went three-wide. Truex decreased the distance between him and Busch, which was effectively rendered at zero when the third caution of the stage came out with eleven laps left. In turn three, Ragan cut his left-rear tire and spun.
Busch stayed in the lead, while a poor stop by Truex dropped him to ninth. Another restart occurred with six laps to go as Busch once again had a strong jump. After two laps of green flag racing, Stenhouse hit the wall to bring out yet another yellow flag and force overtime. Truex was forced to pit again before the restart.
On the restart, Busch once again took off. Elliott tried to form an attack on Busch, but could not do so as the #18 proved to be too dominant. Elliott had to settle for second, followed by Hamlin, Logano, Harvick, Johnson, Larson, Keselowski, Bowyer, and Suárez.
For Busch, he joins Harvick as the only drivers to win three straight races in 2018. The thirty-second-place starting spot is also his worst in a win since he started thirtieth and won at Sonoma Raceway in 2008.
“The pit crew tonight won this race for us tonight,” Busch said in Victory Lane. “They got us off pit road first twice (late).”
The second-place run is Elliott’s eighth in his Cup career. Still seeking his first premier series victory, the eight runner-up finishes ties him with his father Bill Elliott for the most prior to winning his first Cup race.
“Circumstances were on our side tonight, which is not normal, so I’m happy about that,” Elliott stated in an interview with Fox after the race. “It wasn’t pretty for sure. We have a lot of work to do, I still feel like, to have the speed that we need and have the car like I want it to.”
Other finishers of note include Matt DiBenedetto in sixteenth, his second top twenty of the year and tying his best run of 2018, and Daniel Hemric finishing thirty-second in his Cup debut.
Next Sunday, the Cup Series travels to the second restrictor plate race of the year: the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Stenhouse is the defending winner.
2018 Toyota Owners 400 results
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