If there was a competitor and a team that came into the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff opener at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, September 6, with a game plan, it was Kurt Busch and his No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE team led by crew chief Matt McCall. Following a gusty call in the first stage to remain on the track on old tires for track position, the 2004 Cup champion was able to collect stage points within both stages and maintain track position inside the top 10 throughout the race before he battled back to record a solid eighth-place result in his quest for his second Cup title.
Starting in 16th place, Kurt Busch gained only three spots on the track in 13th place when the competition caution flew on Lap 25. Restarting in the top 15, Kurt was able to work his way into the top 10 as he was scored in eighth place by Lap 70. Following the first round of green flag pit stops and a caution just past the Lap 80 mark for debris, crew chief Matt McCall made the call for Kurt to remain on track, which he did along with Bubba Wallace while the majority of lead lap competitors behind him pitted. Leading two laps, he would be quickly overtaken by Martin Truex Jr. for the lead. Despite running on older tires compared to nearly the entire field, Kurt remained well inside the top five. When the first stage concluded on Lap 115, Kurt was able to maintain fifth place on the track and collect a handful of stage points.
Starting the second stage in fourth place, Kurt was able to race his way as high as second place by Lap 164. Following a green flag pit stop and a caution near Lap 180 for a spin involving Wallace, Kurt returned to pit road for four tires and an air pressure adjustment. Restarting in ninth place, Kurt was able to maintain 10th place on the track when the second stage concluded on Lap 230, thus collecting a single stage point.
Restarting in 10th place in the final stage, Kurt worked his way from the top 10 to the top five throughout the run. Following a late caution due to debris, he restarted in 11th place with approximately 40 laps remaining and was trying to battle his way back into the top 10 in the final laps. When leaders Truex and Chase Elliott tangled with 15 laps remaining, Kurt was able to gain a few more spots on the track and cross the finish line in eighth place, one spot behind brother Kyle but ahead of Playoff contenders Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Cole Custer and Denny Hamlin.
With his 15th top-10 result of this season, Kurt Busch is ranked in 11th place in the Playoff standings and is four points above the top-12 cutline.
“It was a great call by Matt McCall to stay out and use our strength,” Busch said on NBCSN. “Our strength was long run speed and it just seemed like our car needed 10-15 laps to get going on fresh tires. That put us in clean air, gave us a shot at trying to hang on to points and yeah, I gotta let some guys go. Otherwise, people will move you. You don’t want damage. I knew my job was to manage it. We got fifth. That was a great stage. Then we struggled with some of the loose and the tight on the Monster Energy Chevy. But all in all, when we were on that alternative strategy, I was loving it. That’s when you go back to old school Darlington and you’re out there for 60-70 laps at a time and you got to get every lap time you can when everybody else is on fresh tires. I was in the zone, I was feeling it and the yellow came out. We had to battle back, we got eighth. It was a good points night for us, but I wanted a little bit more out of Darlington.”
Kurt Busch, along with his fellow Cup Playoff contenders, will return for the next Playoff race at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 12, at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.