Kurt Busch shakes up the Playoff field with first victory of 2021 at Atlanta

With his future racing status beyond this season currently uncertain, Kurt Busch made an epic statement after dominating and fending off brother Kyle Busch to win the Quaker State 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 11, for his first NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season and to place himself in a guaranteed spot to make the Playoffs in Chip Ganassi Racing’s swan song season in NASCAR.

The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Cup event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. With that, Chase Elliott, winner of last weekend’s Cup event at Road America, started on pole position and was joined on the front row with Kyle Busch, winner of Saturday’s Xfinity Series event at Atlanta.

Prior to the event, Martin Truex Jr. started at the rear of the field due to his car failing pre-race technical inspection twice.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Elliott launched ahead with an early advantage while Kyle Busch struggled to start on the outside lane and in front of a stacked field.

With the first lap complete as the field behind jostled for early positioning, Elliott was out in front by two-tenths of a second over Kyle Busch with Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick in the top five.

Following the first five laps of the event, Elliott was leading by nearly half a second over Kyle Busch. Teammates Hamlin and Bell continued to run in third and fourth followed by Reddick, Matt DiBenedetto, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski.

Five laps later, Elliott stabilized his advantage to half a second over Kyle Busch. While Hamlin continued to run in third, Reddick made his move to fourth place over Bell.

On Lap 14, Kyle Busch muscled his way into the lead over Elliott through the backstretch and following an intense battle for the top spot with Elliott over the previous few laps.

When the competition caution flew on Lap 25, Kyle Busch was leading by more than two seconds over teammate Hamlin while Elliott slipped back to third. Reddick remained in fourth while Kurt Busch emerged in fifth over Larson, Bell, Logano, DiBenedetto and Alex Bowman. By then, Brad Keselowski was in 11th ahead of Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Chris Buescher and William Byron. Truex was in 18th in between Aric Almirola and Bubba Wallace, Kevin Harvick was in 20th ahead of rookie Chase Briscoe, Ryan Newman was in 22nd, Daniel Suarez was in 24th in between Ross Chastain and Erik Jones, Cole Custer was in 27th behind Corey LaJoie and Michael McDowell was in 29th.

Under the competition caution, the leaders pitted and Hamlin exited pit road with the lead ahead of teammate Kyle Busch, Reddick, Larson, Logano and Keselowski. Elliott, meanwhile, dropped from third to 18th after he slid his No. 9 Adrenaline Shoc Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE through his pit box prior to pitting for fresh tires and fuel.

When the race restarted on Lap 29, Hamlin retained the lead through the first two turns until teammate Kyle Busch gained a run on the outside of Turn 3 and challenged Hamlin for the top spot. While Busch led the following lap, both Joe Gibbs Racing teammates continued to battle early for the lead.

Shortly after, the caution returned for a chain reaction spin and wreck in the backstretch involving Cody Ware, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Suarez.

When the race restarted on Lap 35, Kyle Busch received a strong start to retain the lead followed by a two-car battle for the runner-up spot between Logano and Hamlin, with the latter prevailing ahead of Larson and Reddick. While teammates Kyle Busch and Hamlin battled for the lead, Kurt Busch muscled his way into third place over Reddick while Alex Bowman moved into the top five ahead of Logano, Keselowski and Larson.

By Lap 40, Kyle Busch continued to lead by nearly half a second over teammate Hamlin, with Kurt Busch closing in on Hamlin for the runner-up spot. Reddick and Bowman were in the top five followed by Logano, Keselowski, Larson, DiBenedetto and Byron. Elliott, meanwhile, was mired in 20th behind Aric Almirola while Truex was in 11th.

Ten laps later, the Busch brothers were running first and second as younger brother Kyle was leading by half a second over older brother Kurt. Hamlin remained in third while running just ahead of Bowman and Reddick. By then, Larson was in eighth behind Logano and Keselowski, Truex was in 10th behind Byron, Harvick was in 14th behind Blaney and Elliott was still mired in 20th behind Briscoe and Bubba Wallace.

Another 10 laps later, Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Skittles Gummies Toyota Camry continued to lead by six-tenths of a second over brother Kurt’s No. 1 GEARWRENCH Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE while Bowman’s No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, which was more than four seconds behind the leader, emerged in third place ahead of Hamlin’s No. 11 Offerpad Toyota Camry and Reddick’s No. 8 Okuma Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.

By Lap 70, Kyle Busch stabilized his lead to nearly a second over brother Kurt while Hamlin, Bowman and Reddick remained in the top five. Meanwhile, a four-car battle ensued for seventh place between Larson, Byron, Keselowski and Truex. By then, Harvick was in 11th, Blaney was in 14th behind Austin Dillon, Christopher Bell was in 16th behind Chris Buescher and Elliott was in 18th.

Not long after, Ryan Newman pitted under green to have a right-front chorded tire addressed to his No. 6 Oscar Mayer Ford Mustang.

When the first stage concluded on Lap 80, Kyle Busch was out in front as he claimed his fourth stage victory of the season. Kurt Busch settled in second followed by Hamlin, Bowman, Reddick, Larson, Logano, Byron, Truex and Harvick. By then, names like Erik Jones, Michael McDowell, rookie Anthony Alfredo and Ryan Newman were lapped by the leaders.

Under the stage break, the leaders returned to pit road and Kurt Busch exited pit road to assume the lead for the first time followed by Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Bowman and Reddick. During the pit stops, Elliott clipped Cole Custer’s tire carrier while entering his pit stall. Following the pit stops, Harvick and Truex returned to pit road to have their respective cars repaired after both sustained damage on pit road.

The second stage started on Lap 86 with the Busch brothers leading the field. At the start, Kurt Busch took off with the lead following a strong start while Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Reddick battled for the runner-up spot as the field fanned out through the backstretch.

By Lap 90, Kurt Busch continued to lead by nearly half a second over brother Kyle, who had Tyler Reddick pressuring him for the runner-up spot. Meanwhile, Hamlin and Bowman battled for fourth while Keselowski, Byron, Blaney, Larson and Wallace were in the top 10.

At the Lap 100 mark, Kurt Busch was leading by nearly two seconds over Bowman, with Reddick, Kyle Busch and Hamlin in the top five. Behind, Larson was in sixth ahead of Keselowski while Elliott was in 16th behind Truex. Harvick, meanwhile, was in 20th behind Ross Chastain.

A few laps later, Logano brought his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang to pit road after reporting a left-rear vibration.

Nearing the Lap 120 mark and with rain threats looming near the track, names like Byron, DiBenedetto, Hamlin, Larson, Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Wallace, Blaney, Harvick, Bowman, Austin Dillon, Elliott and Briscoe pitted under green. A few laps later, Kurt Busch also pitted along with Reddick, Buescher, Corey LaJoie, Erik Jones, Alfredo, Bell and Truex. Cole Custer, who briefly led, also pitted along with Newman.

Back on track, Almirola was leading by half a second over Preece, though both are still in need of a pit stop, while Kurt Busch was back in third and 10 seconds behind.

At the halfway mark on Lap 130, Almirola was still leading by nearly half a second over Preece while Kurt Busch narrowed the gap to two-tenths of a second. Two laps later, Kurt Busch, racing on fresh tires, bolted his way back to the lead over Preece and Almirola. Another four laps later, brother Kyle Busch moved into the runner-up spot followed by Bowman, Reddick, Almirola and Larson while Ryan Preece pitted. Not long after, Almirola also pitted.

By Lap 140, Kurt Busch was leading by more than four seconds over brother Kyle while Bowman, Reddick and Larson were in the top five. Hamlin, meanwhile, was in sixth followed by Blaney, Byron, Keselowski and Austin Dillon. Elliott was in 12th behind Wallace, Truex and Harvick were in 16th and 17th while in front of Logano and Almirola was all the way back in 25th.

Ten laps later, Kurt Busch continued to lead by more than four seconds over brother Kyle. Behind, Larson overtook Reddick for fourth place while Bowman settled in third.

When the second stage concluded on Lap 160, Kurt Busch was still leading as he claimed his third stage victory of the season. Settling in second was Kyle Busch followed by Bowman, Larson, Hamlin, Reddick, Blaney, Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Truex.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Kurt Busch retained the lead following a stellar pit stop. Kyle Busch followed in second and in front of Bowman, Larson, Reddick and Hamlin. Following the pit stops, Hamlin was assessed a pit road speeding penalty.

Soon after, NASCAR red-flagged the event for 19 minutes to have the track surface on the frontstretch repaired.

When the red flag lifted following the surface repairs, the final stage started under green with 90 laps remaining. At the start, Kurt Busch retained the lead followed by Bowman while Kyle Busch was engaged in a three-wide battle with Larson and Keselowski for third place through the backstretch.

Three laps later, Kyle Busch muscled his way into the runner-up spot over Bowman while Kurt Busch continued to lead. Behind, Keselowski made a bold three-wide move on Reddick and Truex to move into fifth place while teammates Bowman and Larson were in third and fourth.

With 75 laps remaining, Kurt Busch remained as the leader by more than a second over brother Kyle. Teammates Bowman and Larson remained in third and fourth followed by Reddick, Blaney, Truex, Keselowski, Bell and Elliott.

Down to the final 60 laps of the event, Kurt Busch continued to lead by less than a second over Kyle Busch while Bowman, Larson and Reddick remained in the top five. By then, Elliott was in eighth behind Truex and Blaney, Keselowski was back in 10th, Wallace was in 12th ahead of Harvick and Hamlin was in 18th in between Austin Dillon and Byron.

Nearly 10 laps later, pit stops under green commenced as Elliott pitted along with Bell, Logano, Keselowski, DiBenedetto, Wallace, Harvick, Briscoe, Chastain, Blaney, Byron and others. Shortly after, Kyle Busch pitted.

When the pit stops cycled not long after, Kyle Busch, who pitted a lap earlier than Kurt, emerged with the lead as Kurt started to chase down his brother for the lead and the win. By then, Larson was penalized for speeding on pit road.

With 40 laps remaining, Kyle Busch, who was mired in lapped traffic, was leading by eight-tenths of a second over brother Kurt while third-place Alex Bowman trailed by more than three seconds. Trailing by more than six seconds in fourth was Truex while Reddick was in the top five ahead of Blaney, Elliott, Bell, Keselowski and DiBenedetto.

Ten laps later, Kyle Busch’s advantage over brother Kurt decreased to six-tenths of a second, with the older brother slowly catching younger brother for the top spot.

With 24 laps remaining, Kurt Busch drew himself alongside brother Kyle’s No. 18 Toyota, who was tucked behind the lapped No. 42 Clover Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE driven by Ross Chastain, through Turn 3 and the frontstretch. Following a side-by-side battle for another lap, Kurt returned to the top spot while Kyle kept his brother in sight.

With 20 laps remaining, Kurt Busch was leading by half a second over brother Kyle while Truex, Bowman and Reddick remained in the top five. Running in the top 10 were Blaney, Elliott, Bell, DiBenedetto and Keselowski.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Kurt Busch, who earlier was leading by nearly a second over brother Kyle, was leading by just less than half a second over Kyle Busch, with both Busch brothers refusing to give in to one another. Meanwhile, third-place Truex trailed by more than four seconds.

Three laps later, Kyle Busch gained a run to the inside lane of Turn 1 and tried to slide up in front of Kurt while trying to take back the lead, but Kurt remained in the gas and retained the lead through the backstretch.

With five laps remaining and the leaders approaching lapped traffic, among which included Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch was ahead by nearly six-tenths of a second over Kyle Busch.

Despite catching the lapped traffic, Kurt Busch started to pull away from his brother Kyle, who was losing ground for the win. Having his advantage grow to more than a second, Kurt was able to commence the final lap of the event and come back around to claim his first checkered flag of the season.

With his victory, Kurt Busch, who led a race-high 144 of 260 laps, became the 12th different competitor to record a victory in this year’s regular-season stretch. He also achieved his fourth victory at Atlanta and his 33rd Cup Series career win. Above all, he recorded the 20th NASCAR victory for Chip Ganassi Racing, a team that will be departing the sport following this season after the team was purchased by Trackhouse Racing Team.

“Hell yeah, we beat Kyle!” Kurt Busch exclaimed on NBCSN. “I taught that kid everything he knows. He should be grateful. What a battle. What a genuine, awesome, old-school racetrack, and I just asked the track today, last time here on your old asphalt, can I have an old guy win, and she answered. Thank you, Atlanta Motor Speedway!”

During the victory celebrations in front of the grandstands, Kurt credited his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Ross Chastain, for helping him overtake his brother Kyle in the final laps.

“Shake and bake!” Kurt Busch added. “He did his job as a teammate. Ross is gonna get a little flack for it, but that’s what it takes to be a good teammate at the right moment, so I couldn’t be more proud of Ross Chastain. I’ll pay you back, eventually, but right now, this is our No. 1 car in Victory Lane. For all of Ganassi,… I don’t know where I’m going, but I just love racing cars and I wanna race that Next Gen car. That’s why I’m trying to stick around.”

Behind, Kyle Busch, who led 91 laps, settled in second place as this marks the fourth time where the Busch brothers have finished first and second in a Cup event, with Kurt winning over Kyle for a second time. Unlike Kurt, Kyle vocally expressed his criticism over Chastain’s move that allowed Kurt to win.

“[I] Had everything I had there early and then, just smoked it behind [Chastain],” Kyle Busch said. “Shows you what kind of driver he is, and just tried to fight hard after that when I got passed. [I] Had one valiant effort off of [Turn] 2, but just didn’t have enough momentum to drag [Kurt Busch] down, make him go high in [Turns] 3 and 4. After that, the tires were smoked. Great effort, the guys gave me a great piece. We were fast. [Kurt Busch] was definitely better than us. It’s just that I thought I had him, and we did. Racing just didn’t play out for us.”

Truex rallied from starting at the rear of the field to grab a strong third-place effort followed by Bowman and Blaney.

Reddick, meanwhile, continued his strong, consistent quest to make the Playoffs by finishing sixth while Elliott, Bell, DiBenedetto and Keselowski completed the top 10 on the track.

Harvick settled in 11th, Hamlin could only rebound as high as 13th following his late pit road speeding penalty, Wallace and Briscoe finished 14th and 15th in front of Chris Buescher, Larson ended up 18th in front of Logano, Byron and Chastain, Almirola settled in 23rd in front of Erik Jones and Newman came home in 28th.

There were 10 lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured four cautions for 21 laps.

With this year’s NASCAR events at Atlanta Motor Speedway concluded, the oval circuit will be reprofiled and its racing surface will be repaved in preparation for the 2022 season.

With five races remaining until the 2021 Cup Playoffs commences, Denny Hamlin continues to lead the regular-season standings by 10 points over Kyle Larson. Currently, 12 competitors (Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, William Byron, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell and Michael McDowell) are guaranteed Playoff spots based on winning at least once throughout the regular season. Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick occupy the remaining four vacant spots to the Playoffs as winless competitors, with Reddick ahead by 96 points over Chris Buescher, 138 over Matt DiBenedetto, 145 over Ross Chastain, 148 over Bubba Wallace, 161 over Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 179 over Daniel Suarez and 196 over Chase Briscoe.


1. Kurt Busch, 144 laps led, Stage 2 winner

2. Kyle Busch, 91 laps led, Stage 1 winner

3. Martin Truex Jr.

4. Alex Bowman

5. Ryan Blaney

6. Tyler Reddick

7. Chase Elliott, 13 laps led

8. Christopher Bell

9. Matt DiBenedetto

10. Brad Keselowski

11. Kevin Harvick

12. Austin Dillon

13. Denny Hamlin, two laps led

14. Bubba Wallace

15. Chase Briscoe

16. Chris Buescher

17. Cole Custer, one lap led

18. Kyle Larson

19. Joey Logano, one lap down

20. William Byron, one lap down

21. Ross Chastain, one lap down

22. Corey LaJoie, two laps down

23. Aric Almirola, two laps down, eight laps led

24. Erik Jones, two laps down

25. Ryan Preece, two laps down, one lap led

26. Anthony Alfredo, three laps down

27. Michael McDowell, four laps down

28. Ryan Newman, four laps down

29. Justin Haley, five laps down

30. BJ McLeod, six laps down

31. Garrett Smithley, seven laps down

32. Bayley Currey, seven laps down

33. Cody Ware, seven laps down

34. Josh Bilicki, 12 laps down

35. Quin Houff, 12 laps down

36. Daniel Suarez, 17 laps down

37. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – OUT, Suspension

Next on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the series’ annual visit to Loudon, New Hampshire. The event is scheduled to occur on Sunday, July 18, at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com


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