Kyle Busch Wins Phoenix – Championship Four Set for Miami / Homestead
by Kent Whitaker Scores & Statson
A familiar name won again – Kyle Busch beat off several challengers at the end of the Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Arizona for his eight checkered flags of 2018. The win and points earned during the race secured his place as one of the final four drivers eligible to battle for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship next weekend in Miami / Homestead.
The last race of the season will feature Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, and Martin Truex, Jr in a battle for the Championship. Following the race at Phoenix, Clint Bowyer, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, and Aric Almirola were eliminated from the Playoffs.
Following the race, Busch commented that it was hard to keep up with everything that was going on during the chaotic race at Phoenix. During the race, several playoff drivers were eliminated due to wrecks and penalty issues. Busch complimented his crew on getting the win and being able to move forward to the Championship race.
“I didn’t think we were the best car, but we survived - and we did what we needed to do today,” Busch said following the win. “It’s just about getting to next week and once we were locked in, it was ‘all bets are off and it’s time to go.’ It’s an awesome team and an awesome group of guys. Can’t say enough about everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing. All the men and women there that work so hard to prepare such great race cars that I get to drive.”
The last portion of the race featured several cautions and a red flag stoppage that shuffled the field and set up an exciting finish. During the last few restarts, the leaders dropped down to the bottom of the track cutting off pushes from other drivers. Kyle Busch perfected the move following a wreck that eliminated his brother Kurt from the playoffs as well as Chase Elliott.
At one time Elliott had taken the lead from Busch and looked as if he had the winning car. But, Elliott suffered a speeding penalty on pit row which sent him to the back of the field. The red flag came when Ricky Stenhouse Jr cut a tire and slammed into the wall where his oil pan broke loose sending fluid down the track.
Elliott then found himself racing with Kurt Busch, who also seemed to be a contender for the win earlier in the race. Busch was penalized and moved to the back after he passed the pace car heading into the pits. As the two drivers raced their way back towards the front, they were collected in an accident triggered by Benny Hamlin sliding up the track during a restart. Busch came back down the track following the contact with Hamlin where he collected Elliott.
That set up a restart where Aric Almirola could have played the role of spoiler for several Playoff drivers. If Almirola could make the pass on Busch for the win then Harvick may have been eliminated depending on how the rest of the field finished. Busch powered to the front following the final restart with Harvick, Almirola, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski racing behind him.
Almirola looked to have a chance to catch Busch before Keselowski moved him up the track to take the second position. With Keselowski in second, Harvick’s team knew he could remain where he was and not lose additional points. Harvick said teamwork following his L1 penalty last weekend was the key to making the Championship four with a solid run at Phoenix which started on the pole.
“I think we have a chance every time we show up,” Harvick said following the race. “Our guys are doing a great job obviously to accomplish everything we did this weekend - was quite the feat - without your crew chief and car chief, but (interim crew chief) Tony Gibson and (interim car chief) Nick (DeFazio) did a great job filling in and everybody kept their head about them and we were competitive all weekend.”
Winning Numbers in Championship
• Both Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have won eight races in 2018. Busch, Harvick, Truex, and Logano have combined to win 22 of the 35 races won this season with the final race this coming weekend. • The win is the 51st of Busch’s career and his second at Phoenix/ISM Raceway. • Joey Logano and Busch clinched by winning during round three of the playoffs while Truex and Harvick advance on points collected mostly by stage wins. • All four of the remaining Championship Four drivers are former NASCAR Cup Series Champions. • Only Ford and Toyota will be racing for the Championship. No Chevy drivers made the list of Championship Four drivers. Busch and Truex pilot Toyotas with Harvick and Logano behind the wheel of Fords.