Final pit stop propels Kyle Busch to Atlanta victory

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A great final pit stop helped Kyle Busch take the lead with 36 laps to go, and he was able to hold on to it and score the win tonight in the Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

With his fourth victory of 2013, “Rowdy” was also able to clinch a berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, marking a return to NASCAR’s post-season after missing out in 2012.

“It’s a heck of a lot different than 365 days ago, I’ll tell you that much,” Busch told ESPN in Victory Lane. “I can’t say enough about this team. Their work tonight definitely helped me out tonight.

“I wasn’t happy with the car at all in the beginning of the race. But [crew chief] Dave [Rogers] and the guys made some really good calls and made some great adjustments there tonight to get us back up front.”

The critical moment of the race came on pit road under yellow following a Lap 288 spin for Jimmie Johnson in Turn 4. The leaders came down for service, with Busch in third behind then-leader Joey Logano and Ryan Newman.

But Busch was able to leapfrog them both and win the race off pit road. From there, he was able to maintain the lead through two more restarts with 28 and then, 21 laps to go, before taking the win by just under a second over Logano.

“My boys on pit road – what can I say?,” Busch said. “That’s the same group since 2008, they’re amazing. I love those guys and I’d do anything for ’em.”

Logano lost ground in the final restarts, but came alive once more in the final laps. He peeled off third place from Kurt Busch with six laps to go, and then got around Martin Truex, Jr. for the runner-up spot with three to go.

“Big picture, it’s great, but I feel like I had the race-winning Ford here,” said Logano, who led a race-high 78 laps and jumped two spots to eighth in the standings going into the final regular season race next week at Richmond International Raceway.

“When I restarted third behind Kyle, I didn’t give myself enough room, spun the tires. I got pinned in, the 56 [Truex] put me three-wide and I was in trouble at that point. To go all the way back to sixth and then have to work my way back up – I just we had five or six more laps.”

First Wild Card holder Truex, whose cast on his broken right wrist came apart around his palm during the race, was also able to help his Chase chances with a third-place run. Kurt Busch did the same with a fourth-place effort that puts him 10th in the championship, six points ahead of Jeff Gordon, as Richmond looms. Second Wild Card holder Ryan Newman finished fifth, with Gordon taking sixth.

But reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski suffered a massive blow to his bid for the post-season. While leading the race, his engine began to lose power around Lap 245 and he promptly fell back into the field and off the lead lap.

Eventually, Keselowski was forced to go to the garage before the finish. His 35th-place result knocked him to 15th in the standings, 28 points out of the Top 10 – and also left him needing something of a miracle next week in Virginia.

“Obviously, we don’t dictate our own fate,” he said about his fading playoff hopes.

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.