As the laps ticked down in Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway, Kyle Busch chased down Ryan Blaney. Eventually, he got by and drove off to score his first win of the 2019 Monster Energy Cup Series season and is one step closer to breaking the 200-national series win mark.
Blaney started on the pole alongside Elliott. Michael McDowell and Daniel Suárez, who raised national attention with their fight on pit road during Friday’s qualifying session, started twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth, respectively; amusingly, as the two were introduced prior to Sunday’s race, they walked out to the Rocky theme music.
Elliott’s strong jump to take the lead at the green flag proved to cost him when NASCAR ruled he had violated start procedure that prohibited second place from passing the leader at the start/finish line as the flag official determines the start of races (the leader does so on restarts). Forced to do a pass-through penalty, he dropped out of the top thirty.
Blaney led the first 35 laps before Busch took over. Two laps later, Erik Jones, who had been reporting mechanical issues earlier in the stage, spun after cutting his right-rear tyre and hit the wall to bring out the yellow flag. On pit road, Denny Hamlin was the first to complete his stop as he, Austin Dillon, and Jimmie Johnson changed just two tyres. Ryan Newman and Martin Truex Jr. received speeding penalties.
The race resumed on lap 43, with Hamlin leading a few laps before Busch was back in front. Meanwhile, Elliott continued to move through the field and cracked the top fifteen, while Brad Keselowski began to sink. On lap 63, Keselowski’s sway bar broke, causing him to hit the wall and produce a caution; Ryan Preece was able to dodge the wrecking #2.
Suárez’s car stalled during the caution, causing the restart to be delayed. After his situation was addressed and stops were completed, Blaney led the field to the lap 70 restart. Five laps later, he scored the stage win ahead of Aric Almirola, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman, Busch, Kyle Larson, Dillon, William Byron, Elliott, and Kevin Harvick.
Busch and Harvick stayed out during the stage break to occupy the front row. In the pits, Ty Dillon only added fuel to exit pit road first.
The second stage began on lap 83. As Busch led the way, various drivers contended for the free pass position, including Keselowski, Suárez, and Darrell Wallace Jr.
On lap 148, Bowman’s right-front tyre went down and he hit the turn one wall. With the end of the stage only two laps away, a green-flag finish was not possible, meaning Busch secured his second stage win of 2019. Behind him were Clint Bowyer, Harvick, Truex, Hamlin, Newman, Johnson, Logano, Elliott, and Kurt Busch.
Busch won the race off pit road ahead of Bowyer. The final stage opened on lap 158 as Busch maintained his lead.
Two laps later, McDowell — incidentally racing in a pack with Suárez — fell off the pace and was hit from behind by Front Row Motorsports team-mate David Ragan, causing him to collide with the turn three wall. Lap 166 saw the next restart with Busch remaining at the top.
On lap 194, Bowman suffered more problems as he brushed the wall again to force another caution flag; the yellow supported his Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Byron by giving him the free pass. Bowman voiced his frustrations through a GIF on Twitter:
— Alex Bowman (@AlexBowman88) March 10, 2019
Johnson and Austin Dillon changed two tyres to elevate their pit runs, though the latter was eventually charged with speeding, while Newman was penalised for a safety violation when a crewman tried to catch a tyre and inadvertently touched a disallowed equipment zone. A loose lug nut forced Blaney to pit again.
Lap 201 saw the next restart as Busch, restarting on the inside line, passed Johnson for first. As Johnson and Bowyer fought for second, Johnson’s HMS team-mate Elliott spun on lap 219 while battling Hamlin for eighth in turn three.
Dillon did not change tyres on his stop, while his Richard Childress Racing colleague Daniel Hemric stayed out to inherit the lead. The duo led the grid to the lap 225 restart, which did not translate to a long green flag run as Preece was clipped by Suárez; in a reversal of their lap 63 incident, Keselowski attempted to avoid the wrecking Preece, but scraped the inside retaining wall. Ironically, Suárez received the free pass.
Almirola and Hemric comprised the top two when the race resumed on lap 231, but it once again quickly reverted to yellow when Preece hit the wall again. A second restart commenced on lap 237 with Almirola leading until Blaney overtook him on lap 252.
On lap 260, Matt DiBenedetto, who had been running in the top fifteen for much of the stage, was forced to pit with battery issues. At the front of the field, Blaney faced a draining fuel cell and estimates that placed him short of finishing the race by two laps.
Further exacerbating his situation was Busch’s presence as the #18 chased down the leader. Struggling with a tight car, Blaney was unable to hold him off as Busch made the pass with 16 laps to go. Truex eventually also passed him to take second.
With little opposition, Busch stormed off to his 199th national series win and a weekend sweep after winning Saturday’s Xfinity Series event; he has 52 in the Cup Series, 94 in the Xfinity Series, and 53 in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series.