Kyle Busch is probably muttering “Hallelujah” right now.
After all, he and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team’s prayers were answered.
Busch was motoring along in the Top 5 late in today’s Contender Round opener at Kansas Speedway when an apparent engine issue started to develop.
“Y’all better pray it’s going to make it,” Busch reportedly said over the team radio.
Considering Kansas has been a rather hellish place for Busch in regards to results over the course of Sprint Cup career, perhaps him asking for divine help was understandable.
But whether it was the work of angels or a sturdy Toyota motor, Busch avoided calamity and picked up a third-place finish behind winner Joey Logano and runner-up Kyle Larson.
With his best-ever Cup finish at Kansas, Busch is now second in the Chase Grid going into next weekend’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, 19 points over the cutoff to advance to the Eliminator Round.
“It says good things about us,” said Busch, who recovered from a speeding penalty on pit road near the midway point of the race. “…I can’t say enough about [crew chief] Dave Rogers and the fight in this 18 bunch. They’ve done a really good job this year, this Chase time. It’s a matter of just trying to keep piecing these [results] together like that.
“Mile-and-a-halves [tracks] haven’t been our strong suit this year, and we know we have some work to do on that program. [Logano and Larson] just left us. They were flat out flying today, and I’m sure there are a couple other cars that were good enough to finish third, fourth, fifth. We were probably sixth or seventh, but we’ll take a third.”
Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, also acknowledged the performance gap between JGR and the front-running Hendrick and Penske teams.
But with all four of the Hendrick drivers and Penske’s Brad Keselowski suffering various setbacks today, Hamlin’s seventh-place run puts him fifth on the Chase Grid, 14 points to the good.
“We didn’t think we were going to contend here for a win today, but we knew we could contend for a Top-5, Top-10 finish and we did,” said Hamlin.
“I saw those guys around us having a lot of issues, and we don’t have a lot of the speed that those guys have. So maybe if we can get them out in this round, we can get a fighting chance and get to the end of this thing.”
In between Busch and Hamlin were two more surprises – Carl Edwards in fifth and Ryan Newman in sixth. That gives both Edwards and Newman identical 16-point cushions over the cutoff.
For Edwards, it’s his sixth Top-5 finish and his 11th Top-10 finish in 15 starts at Kansas, but he’s still searching for his first win there.
As for Newman, he went to the lead during a round of yellow-flag stops with less than 40 laps to go and held the point following a restart with 33 to go.
But another yellow quickly came out and set up another restart with 28 to go. It was there that Newman apparently decided to look at the big picture.
“I was a leader and a sitting duck,” Newman said. “The first restart, I think I got a push from [Logano] and he shot me out just enough so I could run around [Busch]. But the next restart, I saw [Busch] out there gaining, gaining, gaining. I thought to myself, ‘Blocking is probably not the best thing to do in this position.’
“I knew a lot of the other guys were having a bad day. I could’ve been a little bit more aggressive on my part, but that would’ve put him more aggressive if he was in a bad mood.”