AVONDALE, AZ – Kyle Busch thought about it. The thought crossed his mind. But, he decided against it. Busch, drove his No. 18 Toyota to victory lane on Sunday at the ISM Raceway in Phoenix for the eighth time of the season and 51st of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career.
It stamped his name into the Championship 4 as he will battle Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. for the 2018 title. But, that thought. Man, that thought.
Towards the end of Sunday’s Can Am 500, Busch was well in command. He had to outlast the field on three late race restarts. On the last two, the thought crossed his mind to let Aric Almirola by. See, at that point of the race, Busch had already clinched his spot into the final round. All he had to do was finish 33rd or better. There were 32 cars running.
If he let Almirola by, his aim was to have Almirola hold off the field for his third career Cup Series victory instead. If that happens, Almirola joins Busch in the finals and bumps out Harvick.
See how this works yet?
Busch, wouldn’t have to deal with Harvick at Homestead next week. He’d be eliminated. Why not keep the guy who’s also won eight races this season out if you can? That’s where the thought came from.
Almirola, had four fresh tires in the end. He went from outside of the top five to fifth, to fourth, to third, to….
On the final restart, Almirola was second. Busch? Well he was first. Busch, fought hard and in the end prevailed. Almirola? He faded to fourth. It was his fourth top five of the season and third straight top 10 finish at Phoenix. But, his No. 10 Ford just wasn’t strong enough. He later admitted that he had a seventh to eighth place car. Busch, knew that.
He knew that if he let Almirola by, then Brad Keselowski who was also on four tires would likely chase him down and pass him for the win. That would have been counter productive. So, Busch kept his foot on the throttle and raced his way to Homestead.
Keselowski, finished runner-up in his No. 2 Ford for his fourth top five finish of the postseason alone and fourth top two finish since Darlington. Kyle Larson finished third in his No. 42 Chevrolet while Almirola and Harvick rounded out the top five on a sun filled afternoon in the desert.
While it was anticlimactic over the final few laps, the rest of the day was very interesting.
Harvick, started on the pole and led the first 72 laps before having a tire go down. He’d have to pit and fall down to 28th, one lap down. Chase Elliott inherited the lead and would be in the catbirds seat. Then, it was Kurt Busch in the final spot. He took over the lead on Lap 84 and would lead through Lap 135.
That’s when it all went downhill.
Clint Bowyer, a playoff driver, crashed on Lap 133. His day and playoff hopes were done. He hasn’t finished in the top five at Phoenix since 2008. Busch, while leading, hit pit road and unfortunately passed the pace car. That drew a one lap penalty.
Meanwhile, Harvick had found his lap back and back in contention. Elliott, he was there too. Kyle Busch was shown as the leader on Lap 144 and would lead the next 81 laps before pitting and handing the lead over to Elliott. Then, a caution came for Tanner Berryhill.
Kyle Busch was pinned a lap down and would have to take the wave around. Kurt Busch would get the free pass and be back on the lead lap. Elliott, was in control though, until he wasn’t.
Elliott, was caught speeding on pit road, taking his lead away.
Now, it was Kurt Busch vs. Harvick again.
After Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crashed hard on Lap 262, the leaders hit pit road. Kurt Busch didn’t. He would restart second, beside new leader Erik Jones. On the ensuing restart, it was a mess off Turn 2.
Busch, got loose. Denny Hamlin running underneath him got loose too. Both made contract and sparked a big crash. Elliott was involved. Lap 268 took Elliott and Kurt Busch out.
Now, it was down to Harvick vs. Almirola.
See where Busch’s thought came from?
Can Am 500
- 18 KyBusch
- 2 Keselowski
- 42 Larson
- 10 Almirola
- 4 Harvick
- 1 McMurray
- 6 Kenseth
- 3 ADillon
- 24 Byron R
- 43 Wallace Jr. R
- 31 Newman
- 47 Allmendinger
- 11 Hamlin
- 78 Truex Jr.
- 48 Johnson
- 34 McDowell -1
- 20 Jones -2
- 37 Buescher -2
- 13 TDillon -2
- 38 Ragan -2
- 32 DiBenedetto -2
- 95 Smith -2
- 9 Elliott -3
- 15 Chastain -3
- 72 Whitt -3
- 00 Cassill -3
- 7 Kennington -6
- 51 Ware -6
- 21 Menard OUT
- 88 Bowman OUT
- 97 Berryhill OUT
- 41 KuBusch OUT
- 17 Stenhouse Jr. OUT
- 12 Blaney OUT
- 14 Bowyer OUT
- 19 Suarez OUT
- 22 Logano OUT
- 23 Yeley OUT
- 66 Hill OUT