It was Kurt, by the way.
Over the years, Kentucky didn’t always produce the best racing but that has changed. Don’t get me wrong, the track can still produce some boring racing. Case in point, the enormous lead Kyle Busch had over the field earlier in this race. But the end of this race gave those in attendance something to cheer about.
Kurt Busch started out 4th and put everyone on notice with his Stage 1 win. Not that a Stage win always means a lot. But after losing last week due to an ill-timed lightning strike, he stayed up front this week and used a pit strategy that ultimately put him in a position to win.
Early in the race we saw a lot of drivers running up front who have yet to win this season. Most notably Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Dillon looked like he had a Top 5 car but he had a late race issue that sent him to the rear of the field. Bowyer led 40 laps but didn’t have the late speed to stay in front of Joey Logano and the Busch Brothers. Stenhouse got shuffled back in late pit stops and once in traffic couldn’t get back to the front. Ryan Newman also ran in the Top 5 for a while, showing some strength for Roush Fenway Racing with both drivers leading laps.
With Kyle Busch handily winning Stage 2 (remember the part where the race was a stinker?) it looked like the battle would be for second place. But then the final stage started and a few cautions kept the field tighter together. Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin all wanted a piece of the action, pressing Kyle Busch over the closing laps.
As often happens, a late race caution fell. This was a legit caution, not one manufactured for phantom debris that set the stage for a dramatic finish. Once the green flag flew, Bowyer, Larson, Jones, Logano and the Busch Brothers wrestled for the lead. Kurt and Kyle came out ahead of the others with Jones lurking. The brothers raced each other cleanly but by no means without contact and hard racing. The final turns saw both brothers get sideways and Kyle somehow avoiding a full-blown spin out in front of the field. Even sideways, he managed to race Kurt right to the checkered flag. If NASCAR had that kind of finish every week I think they’d be more than content with the racing product.
The win put Kurt through to the playoffs and his excitement was evident. It’s been a long season for Kurt, Ganassi and Chevy (this was Chevy’s first win at Kentucky). While I doubt this cemented Kurt’s long-term future with Ganassi, it does put him in position to show us something in the playoffs, which will determine what he does in 2020 and beyond.
Other notables in the race were Brad Keselowski running with a bad cylinder and finishing 20th. Winless Kevin Harvick certainly doesn’t look like a serious post-season threat with his 22nd place finish. Jimmie Johnson’s late race spin put him in 30th and fighting to make the playoffs on points. Daniel Suarez finished 8th but wasted a pole position with pit road issues. Hamlin finished 5th but a pit road penalty for an uncontrolled tire is the kind of thing this team battles week in and week out. You can’t win a title shooting yourself in the foot nearly every week.
On a positive note, Chris Buescher got another Top 10 and Matt DiBenedetto just missed a Top 15 in 16th.
The next 6 races feature tracks of all kinds, from Bristol to Pocono to Watkins Glen. The cream will rise to the top over the next several weeks as drivers fight to make the cut for the final 10 races. While there is little doubt Kevin Harvick will make it, for others, like Jimmie Johnson, this will be a fight for their playoff lives. Let’s hope we see a few more finishes as thrilling as the one we just saw at Kentucky along the way.