Kyle Busch continues his domination of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Despite starting in the middle of the field due to a penalty, he moved up the grid and held off a group of aspiring first-time winners to score his sixth win of the 2018 season.
Kevin Harvick and Busch were the fastest qualifiers, but post-qualifying inspection led to thirteen drivers, including the two, to have their times disallowed. As a result, Daniel Suárez started on the pole and the front row for the first time in his Cup career, doing so alongside Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Denny Hamlin. Busch and Harvick started twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth, respectively.
With a strong start at the green flag, Suárez quickly pulled ahead of Hamlin. At the rear, it did not take long for Harvick to move through the field, entering the top twenty after just one lap. By lap 11, Harvick was in the top ten.
Green flag pit stops began on lap 22 as Harvick and others pitted. Suárez and Hamlin did so a lap later, allowing Jamie McMurray to inherit the lead until he pitted; McMurray was subsequently penalized for being too fast entering pit road. After McMurray entered the pits, Kurt Busch became the new leader. Busch and Chris Buescher were the final drivers to make their stops, doing so on lap 35 as Hamlin took the lead.
Chase Elliott passed Hamlin for first on lap 40. Behind him and Hamlin, Suárez found himself dropping as Harvick and Erik Jones entered the top five and passed him. Harvick eventually claimed second as Elliott maintained a three-second advantage. Jones and Martin Truex Jr. made their stops with one lap remaining in Stage #1. At the front, Harvick could not catch Elliott as the #9 driver scored his second stage win of 2018. Harvick finished second, followed by Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Suárez, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, and Ryan Blaney.
Since the two pitted shortly before the end of the stage, Jones and Truex stayed out to take over the front row. Kurt Busch took two tires to win the race off pit road ahead of Elliott, while Joey Logano saw an extended stop to repair damage suffered in contact with Corey LaJoie.
The second stage began on lap 57. Although Truex restarted second, a poor run in turn one dropped him to fourth as Elliott moved up to second. By lap 60, Suárez had fallen out of the top ten as he struggled with his car’s front. Harvick passed Elliott for second shortly after, followed by taking the lead on lap 65.
The next cycle of green flag stops commenced on lap 75 as Hamlin arrived on pit road. Harvick pitted four laps later, cycling Suárez to the front. On lap 83, LaJoie hit the wall in turn three to bring out the first wreck-related caution of the day, with those who had yet to pit doing so during the ensuing yellow. Harvick re-assumed the lead ahead of Elliott, while Kurt Busch was forced to pit again to tighten his lug nuts.
Lap 87 saw the restart as Harvick led Elliott, though Kyle Busch was quick to take second. Harvick established a strong margin over Busch, who – along with Hamlin, Truex, and Aric Almirola – pitted with three laps remaining in the stage. Suárez and Jones also pitted before the green-checkered flag. By the end of Stage #2, Harvick led Elliott, Bowyer, Bowman, Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Blaney and William Byron.
Kasey Kahne elected for a two-tire strategy during his stop to take the lead off pit road ahead of Elliott, but his plan backfired when he was penalized for speeding. Instead, Byron inherited the lead as he stayed out.
Stage #3 began on lap 106. Byron led Busch until the latter reclaimed first on lap 112, while brother Kurt was forced to pit when his left front tire went down and Suárez moved up to second behind Busch. On lap 121, Keselowski spun in turn two and hit the wall, creating another caution that the leaders used to pit. During his stop, Harvick collided with Almirola, giving the Stewart-Haas Racing damage to the left rear and right front fenders, respectively.
The green flag on lap 126 was quickly aborted when Landon Cassill‘s car blew an engine and spilled fluid onto the track. Harvick pitted to make repairs. Another restart took place on lap 132 with Busch and Suárez at the front. Busch’s lead over Suárez began to grow, but it eventually started to shrink as the race hit the 150-lap mark.
With six laps remaining, Darrell Wallace Jr. suffered the hardest hit of the race; as he entered turn one, his #43 car’s brakes failed, causing him to slide into the outside wall at about 150 mph. The red flag was brought out for ten minutes before reverting to a yellow. Larson, Logano, and Almirola decided to pit during the caution, while Paul Menard received a penalty for pitting too soon.
The next restart occurred with three laps to go and Busch and Suárez on the front row. After a lap, Almirola and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun in turn one, leading to overtime. Suárez attempted another charge, but could not catch up to Busch, who pulled away for his sixth win of the season and 49th career Cup win, tying him with three-time champion Tony Stewart.
Suárez was forced to settle for a career-best second, while Bowman also scored his best Cup finish of third. They were followed by Harvick, Jones, Byron, Elliott, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, and Hamlin.
“A solid weekend for sure,” Suárez stated. “The best weekend we have had this year by far. Good speed in practice, good speed in qualifying, and a really solid race. We put ourselves in position, we just needed a little bit more help right there in the last restart. I felt like we had a pretty good shot in the last one, but I just didn’t have help from behind.”
The Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, who sponsored Bowman’s #88 for the race in conjunction with Axalta Coating Systems, tweeted: “Congrats to @AlexBowman88 for his top-three finish at @poconoraceway and making all of our @Axalta All-Pro Teachers proud!”
“That’s awesome,” Busch stated in response to tying Stewart on the all-time win list. “And you keep reaching higher up the ladder and you keep reaching milestone drivers, and Tony Stewart is one of the all-time best — and one of the drivers that I was a fan of as well growing up so it’s awesome to be able to tie him.”
Stewart congratulated Busch on Twitter: “Congrats on win #49 today @KyleBusch . There’s many more to come. Proud of you “
Next week, the Cup Series heads to its second road course of the year: Watkins Glen International. Truex is the defending winner.
2018 Gander Outdoors 400 results
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