Entering the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch sought to end his four-race run of top-five finishes with a victory. By the fall of the checkered flag, the points leader was in Victory Lane for the first time in the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
The threat of lightning shortened Friday qualifying as Kurt Busch won the pole. He started Sunday’s race on the front row alongside Stewart-Haas Racing team-mate Kevin Harvick. Harvick led the race early as Busch fell out of the top five after exiting the groove.
It did not take long for the first yellow flag of the day to come out; on lap two, Alex Bowman spun, collecting Paul Menard, Daniel Suárez, and Austin Dillon. Bowman and Suárez fell behind one and three laps, respectively, as they repaired their cars. The restart took place on lap six as Harvick led team-mate Clint Bowyer, who eventually dropped back upon leaving the racing line as Ryan Blaney took second.
Martin Truex Jr. hit pit road. Harvick followed three laps later, surrendering the lead to Denny Hamlin. Hamlin pitted on lap 56, but was caught speeding on pit road and was given a pass-through penalty. Upon completing the pit cycle, Harvick was shuffled back into first, and by lap 70, held a margin of over ten seconds to Truex. Truex, an dominant force at 1.5-mile tracks, quickly saw his race win hopes evaporate on lap 79 when his right-front tire went down, causing him to slam into the wall.
Due to the close proximity between the caution and the end of the first stage, it concluded under yellow. As the leader, Harvick received ten stage points, followed by Kyle and Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Bowyer, Jamie McMurray, Brad Keselowski, William Byron, and Erik Jones.
Kyle Busch won the race off pit road to take the lead for the start of Stage #2 on lap 91 alongside Harvick. Busch led until Harvick retook first on lap 117. Larson, who was running fourth, suffered a similar fate to Truex on lap 128 when he cut his right-front tire and collided with the turn two wall. On his stop, Harvick dropped eight places after a lug nut was stuck in his crewman’s jack; more pit problems plagued him shortly after the lap 134 restart as he was forced to return to pit road for a loose wheel. Blaney also had wheel problems that prompted him to pit again.
At the head of the field, the Busch brothers led the way. Kurt and Kyle battled for the lead, the latter pulling ahead on lap 166 and holding on to win the stage. Kurt, Logano, Jones, Bowyer, Chase Elliott, Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Hamlin and Aric Almirola trailed.
A strong pit stop by Jones placed him in the lead for the start of Stage #3 on lap 177, though the green flag was short-lived. After just one lap, Almirola started to slow on the track, and Hamlin lost control attempting to avoid the #10, leading to a multi-car wreck that also involved Keselowski, Dillon, Jimmie Johnson, David Ragan, and Trevor Bayne. The red flag was brought out for track cleanup.
Jones and Kurt Busch led the field to the restart on lap 184. By lap 223, only ten cars were on the lead lap. On lap 230, the next run of green flag stops began as Kyle Busch and Logano pitted, with Jones doing the same a lap later to give Kurt the lead. Shortly after, on lap 234, Menard hit the turn two wall to bring out the caution. Harvick and Elliott, who did not pit prior to the yellow flag, elected to do so under caution. During his stop, Harvick was penalized for having too many crewmen over the wall.
Like the prior restart, Jones sat on the front row for the lap 240 restart, though this time, opposite him was Kyle Busch. A good restart by Busch allowed him to take the lead from his Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate. Nine laps later, Bayne and Kasey Kahne wrecked. The next green flag waved on lap 254 as Busch led Jones before the latter was passed by McMurray.
Busch’s lead over McMurray slowly increased. Harvick passed McMurray for second on lap 277, but Busch still maintained a four-second lead. After four laps, the margin was halved, and the two pitted on lap 290. As the race entered the 300-lap mark, Stenhouse, Darrell Wallace Jr., and Ryan Newman remained out as they hoped for a caution to avoid pitting under green, but this strategy ultimately harmed Newman when his right-front tire blew on lap 303, causing him to hit the wall.
Stenhouse and Wallace eventually also pitted, cycling Busch back into the lead for the restart with 30 laps to go. Harvick was unable to provide a challenge as Busch went on to score his third win at Texas and first of 2018. Harvick finished second, followed by McMurray, Jones, Blaney, Logano, Kurt Busch, Wallace, Bowyer, and Byron.
“This has been a trying couple of months, I guess,” Busch stated. “You know after Daytona, we’ve just been on a roll of finishing really good and getting really pumped and excited about that and the momentum we were able to carry, but frustrated at the same time trying to get to Victory Lane.”
The next race on the Cup schedule is the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Johnson is the defending winner.
2018 O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 results
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