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.