Sunday’s Can-Am 500 marked the first Monster Energy Cup Series race under ISM Raceway‘s new layout. It was also the final race of the Round of 8 before the Championship Round. With Joey Logano already locked in, three more spots were up for grabs; by the checkered flag, Kyle Busch was one of them.
Kevin Harvick, whose AAA Texas 500 win the previous week was nullified by a penalty, started on the pole alongside fellow playoff driver Chase Elliott. Paul Menard and Cody Ware went to the rear after switching to backup cars.
Harvick led the race early as Menard lost a cylinder and began falling. Timmy Hill later exited the race as his car was leaking fluid.
The leader’s run came to an abrupt halt on lap 73 when Harvick suffered a flat tire, forcing him to pit and surrender first to Elliott. Following the sudden turn in events, Elliott instead scored the stage win ahead of Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Alex Bowman, and Austin Dillon.
Elliott won the race off pit road, while J.J. Yeley, Regan Smith, and Michael McDowell were penalised for speeding.
Stage #2 began with Elliott and Kurt Busch on the front row, the latter eventually pulling ahead for the lead. A lap down, Harvick began to move through the field to place himself as the highest car not on the lead lap. On lap 95, Joey Logano lost his left-rear tire and wrecked to bring out the caution, which enabled Harvick to return to the lead lap in twenty-second. During Logano’s incident, Daniel Suárez made contact with Matt Kenseth as they tried to avoid the #22.
The race resumed on lap 104. Keselowski passed Elliott for second as Busch remained in the lead. On lap 133, Clint Bowyer‘s championship hopes dissipated when he hit the wall in turn three, ending his day. During stops, Busch was penalised for passing the pace car as he entered pit road; a livid Busch later demanded for his team to drop a “rulebook off next time I pit so I can read it,” prompting Stewart-Haas Racing owner Tony Stewart to chide him.
Martin Truex Jr. became the new leader alongside Harvick for the restart with ten laps left in the stage. Four laps into the run, Kyle Busch overtook Truex for the lead, followed by Keselowski doing the same to claim second. It was Busch’s sixth stage win of the year, followed by Keselowski, Truex, Harvick, Larson, Dillon, Elliott, Blaney, William Byron, and Aric Almirola.
The final stage commenced on lap 158 as Busch continued to lead the field. On lap 225, Elliott cut short Busch’s domination by taking the lead. Three laps later, Tanner Berryhill – making his Cup debut – spun to bring out the caution.
Keselowski took the lead during stops for the lap 236 restart. His Team Penske team-mate Blaney eventually fell off the pace and was forced to pit. On lap 241, Harvick clipped David Ragan and spun him to produce another yellow. Keselowski stayed in first through the ensuing green flag before another yellow came out on lap 264 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked, his rear end catching fire and spilling fluids. After a brief yellow flag, track conditions switched to red for cleanup.
Lap 270 saw a brief green flag run before Hamlin squeezed Kurt Busch into the outside wall, turning the former into a spin. Hamlin then collected Elliott to knock him out of title contention.
“Hate it for my race team and those involved today while we were racing for the lead,” Hamlin tweeted after the race. “I heard the 20 and 41 were up the track so I tried to clear before I got to the exit. Unfortunately @KurtBusch was still there and I got loose under him.
“Me and Kurt spoke at the plane and shared a beer afterwards. Got nothing but respect for him and his guys. We will head to homestead and try to finish off strong.”
Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Jimmie Johnson later tweeted, “I hate it for @chaseelliott and the 9 guys. They’ve had such a strong year and would’ve been a real threat down @HomesteadMiami.”
The next restart took place with 20 laps to go as Kyle Busch led Almirola, the latter needing to win to advance to the Championship Round. After a three-lap run, Berryhill hit the wall to bring out the tenth caution of the day. The yellow set up a 12-lap sprint that began on lap 300. Busch took off as Almirola quickly plummeted.
For Busch, he scored his eighth win of 2018 to lock himself into the Championship Round. While Logano and Busch are in the Final Four courtesy of wins, Harvick and Truex were ensured spots based on points. Keselowski finished second, followed by Larson, Almirola, Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Dillon, Byron, and Darrell Wallace Jr.. Truex (fourteenth), Elliott (twenty-third), Kurt Busch (thirty-second), Bowyer (thirty-fifth), and Logano (thirty-seventh) were the only playoff drivers to not finish in the top ten. As they failed to win, Elliott, Kurt Busch, Bowyer, and Almirola were knocked out of playoff contention.
Busch tweeted, “We’re heading home with a trophy, then on to Miami to race for a championship!”
The final race of the 2018 NASCAR season is the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Truex enters as the defending champion and race winner.