Kyle Busch holds off Logano…
By Tom Groeschen
The Kentucky Enquirer
SPARTA, Ky. – Kyle Busch is smoking hot again, after a long absence from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series scene this year.
Busch won the fifth annual Quaker State 400 here at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night, beating runner-up Joey Logano to the finish line by 1.594 seconds. Busch did the traditional burnout after his win, sending white smoke flying over the grandstands for his second Cup win at Kentucky in five tries.
“That was awesome, I can’t say enough about my team,” Busch said. “Kentucky is one of my best places to score a win. What a blast.”
Busch missed 11 races because of a broken right leg and left foot sustained in a Feb. 21 accident at Daytona International Speedway. Busch returned to Victory Lane at Sonoma (California) on June 8, meaning he has won two of the last three Cup races.
Busch led 163 of 267 laps. He also paced a Joe Gibbs Racing finish of 1, 3, 4 and 5 with Denny Hamlin finishing third, Carl Edwards fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth.
“It’s a great sports story,” Gibbs said of Busch’s comeback. “I’m just really proud of him and the whole team.”
Brad Keselowski was sixth, dominating the early stages but fading late. Defending Quaker State 400 champion Keselowski led 62 laps.
Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon, in his final NASCAR season, finished seventh as he failed to gain his first Kentucky win.
Busch and Keselowski entered the race as the winningest drivers in Kentucky Speedway’s 15-year history, each with five wins across various series. That included a win for Busch in the inaugural Quaker State 400 Cup race in 2011 and two wins for Keselowski in the speedway’s Cup race (2012 and 2014).
Busch won Saturday from the No. 9 starting position.
Keselowski jumped ahead of pole sitter Kyle Larson on the first lap and owned the early stages. No. 3 starter Gordon also slipped ahead of Larson early and was running a distant second to Keselowski.
Keselowski built a three-second lead by Lap 19 before the first caution, when J.J. Yeley got into Josh Wise and the latter hit the wall in Turn 3.
Keselowski led the first 32 laps before a competition caution, when he was shuffled back to 11th place behind new leader Busch. Keselowski had taken on four new tires, and began the process of clawing back toward the front. By Lap 62, Keselowski had roared up to second place behind Busch.
The No. 2 Ford of Keselowski kept closing the gap on Busch and slid past the No. 18 Toyota of Busch on Lap 95.
Whenever Keselowski got out front into clean air, his lead generally kept growing. It started to look much like last year at Kentucky, when Keselowski ran away from the field for most of the night.
Keselowski was sailing along when another caution (Yeley into the wall, Lap 122) arose. Keselowski took a pit stop and wound up hitting his right front tire carrier, who had tripped. It was not a hard hit, but the mishap dropped Keselowski to 10th place.
By Lap 151, Keselowski again had dashed through the field and stood second to Busch.
Yet, another caution (debris) led to Keselowski being pushed back to 18TH place just four laps later, and he had to start climbing again.
By Lap 183, Keselowski had steamed up into third place behind Busch and Edwards. Then, another caution and another slow pit stop sent Keselowski tumbling to fifth place, with 77 laps remaining.
On Lap 207, big names Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an incident that sent Patrick into the wall. Neither had been running near the front, and Earnhardt had been having brake problems that may have led him to push Patrick into the wall.
After the caution lights turned on, Patrick later drove slightly into Earnhardt for a love tap on pit road. Patrick was unaware of Earnhardt’s brake problems, the TV crew said, but it made for some fun Tweets and conversation among race fans.
NASCAR has been working on multiple basic car set-ups to make its racing more exciting, including on 1 1/2-mile intermediate tracks such as Kentucky. For instance, Keselowski led 199 of the 267 laps in last year’s Kentucky Cup race and fans want more close, side-by-side racing.
The changes at Kentucky included a 31/2-inch rear spoiler, a 2 1/2-inch reduction from standard. The package also featured a shortened radiator pan (25 inches, down from 38) and the front splitter was to have 1 ¾ inches less overhang than in the first 17 Cup races this season.
Result: With less downforce and nearly 50 laps remaining there already had been 11 cautions, breaking the Kentucky Speedway record for a Cup race.
“So far, so good,” Busch said. “I like the new aero package, obviously. With the old package you get stuck behind (Logano). Here, I can make a move and pass him.”
Busch overtook Logano with 18 laps left.
“Second always hurts,” Logano said. “I felt like the effect of being behind a car wasn’t as big. There were four or five cars that were running the same speed, and it was all about how you got through traffic and worked your tires. … (But) It was the best run we’ve had for a while.”
Keselowski, in his case, after the 11th caution found himself stuck in eighth place and unable to move up. There was speculation he may have had some tire issues as the laps clicked away toward the finish.
VICTORY LANE: Previous Quaker State 400 winners at Kentucky were Busch (2011), Keselowski (2012 and 2014) and Kenseth (2013).
Busch entered Saturday with the most Top-5 finishes (three) in the four Cup races at Kentucky.
ALL CLEAR: The 2011 Kentucky Speedway traffic debacle continues to fade from view. There were massive backups at the inaugural race but, with more parking and smaller crowds since then, traffic is no longer a major issue.
Attendance was not announced Saturday night, with spectators scattered throughout the grandstands. The crowd was fairly substantial but plenty of seats did remain available.
DANICA HITS 100: Patrick became the first female to start a Kentucky Sprint Cup race in 2013, and Saturday night marked her 100th series start.
BIG DOUGH: The cars were competing for part of a $5,104,114 purse Saturday night.
NICE NIGHT: After a rainy run-up to the race, weather conditions at the start of Saturday night’s event featured partly sunny skies and a temperature of 82 degrees.