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.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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