The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) continued their playoff run this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and the second race did not disappoint. Kyle Busch jumped out to the lead after a restart with 23 laps to go and was able to hold on to win his third MENCS race of 2017 and his first ever playoff win.
Busch talked about the strategy moving forward since he is now locked into the next round of the Playoffs.
“I think the biggest thing for us is to just keep focusing on what we’ve done all year long, just keep trying to go out there and run hard, run smooth and be good at what we do,” he said. “Obviously fast race cars help us being able to stay out front. We’ve got a good pit crew. They did a good job today, did everything right, and from there, we’re just trying to collect stage points, go out there and race as hard as we can, get stage wins, get race wins, and do what we can in order to keep padding that cushion that we have for the start of every round.”
Busch started on the pole and led three times for 187 laps. When Stage 1 began, Busch jumped out early but on lap 40 it was all Martin Truex Jr. who took the lead and never looked back, going on to win his 19th stage win of the year. Kyle Larson, Busch, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick round out the top 10 in Stage 1.
Stage 2 took place from Lap 83 – Lap 151. Not much happened in this stage until, with one lap to go, Harvick was accidentally spun around by another playoff contender, Austin Dillon. This caused a huge wreck and chain reaction on the backstretch. During this wreck, Truex Jr., Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Danica Patrick and Jeffrey Earnhardt were all involved during the melee late in Stage 2. Eventual race winner, Kyle Busch barely missed the carnage by inches. The stage ended under caution and gave (Kyle) Busch the win. Kenseth, Larson, Keselowski, Jones, Truex Jr, Hamlin, Johnson, Blaney and Jamie McMurray comprised the remaining top 10 finishers in this stage.
After the craziness in Stage 2, Stage 3 was restarted on lap 159. Busch once again went out and led the way. A few playoff contenders had their fair share of troubles. Hamlin reported a “tire vibration” and pitted for the issue. On lap 186, Austin Dillon was facing microphone issues and could not hear his team communications. With 83 laps to go, non-playoff contender, Earnhardt Jr., had a left front tire blowout and ended his hopes of trying to win for the first time this year.
On lap 219, the caution came out for the fourth time as debris was seen in Turns 3 and 4. Dillon was able to get the free pass and was back on the lead lap.
As often happens late in races, cautions breed cautions. There were three more cautions that slowed the field. On Lap 262, Kasey Kahne slowed in Turns 3 and 4. He eventually was held by NASCAR for intentionally bringing out the caution. Later, he went to the garage for suspension and track bar problems.
“Something broke. I think they said trackbar, but that is all I know I didn’t talk to Darien (Grubb, crew chief). But, that is what he had said while we were in the garage,” Kahne said.
With 33 to go, David Ragan spun around off Turn 2 and the caution flew once more. The last caution came with 28 to go as Trevor Bayne spun out on the backstretch.
The final restart came with 23 to go and Busch was able to hold off Kyle Larson for the win.
“So, we finished second again with our Target Chevy,” Larson said. “That’s a lot of second-place finishes this year, but I’m fine with second. Top fives will get us to Homestead, so hats off to everybody on our Target team. The pit crew was great all day. I think we gained spots every time. Normally I’m struggling on short tracks, but this year we were pretty good.
Truex Jr. rebounded to a fifth-place finish after the wreck in Stage 2. He led three times for 112 laps and retains his position at the top of the playoff leaderboard.
There were six cautions for 32 laps and six leaders among three lead changes.
1 . Martin Truex Jr. (W)
2. Kyle Larson -24
3. Kyle Busch (W)
4. Brad Keselowski -43
5. Denny Hamlin -61
6. Matt Kenseth -62
7. Jimmie Johnson -73
8. Ryan Blaney -79
9. Chase Elliott -79
10. Kevin Harvick -80
11. Jamie McMurray -96
12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -105
Below the cut line
13. Austin Dillon -105
14. Ryan Newman -106
15. Kurt Busch -122
16. Kasey Kahne -122
Next Up: The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Dover International Speedway next Sunday for the final race in the Round of 12.