For the third time in 2017, Kyle Busch goes to victory lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Escaping the tire smoke carnage that collected points leader Martin Truex, Jr.
The Magic Mile became the Magic Three for Kyle Busch after winning Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire. Kyle took command of the race after a multi-car pileup on the last lap of stage two collected Martin Truex, Jr. and other playoff contenders.
From there, Kyle almost never looked back, beating Kyle Larson and teammate Matt Kenseth for his third win of the season. It’s also Kyle’s third win at Loudon and his third career post-season win. Kyle led a race-high 187 of 300 laps and sits third in the playoff standings, 30 points behind Truex, Jr.
“It feels great. This is what it’s all about. We’re supposed to do these things and it feels even better when we can do those things. We’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities I feel like this year, but today we were able to execute all day long. We were able to get the things needed done, done,” Kyle said. “For us to be able run up front all day long with Martin, that was good. We kind of kept pace with him. I know he had his issue over there on the backstretch. That was a close call for a lot of us, but thankfully we were able to get through that one.”
On lap 150, Truex, Jr. was a lap away from winning back-to-back stage wins at Loudon, but Austin Dillon tapped Kevin Harvick’s back bumper, resulting Harvick spinning on the backstretch.
The mass amount of tire smoke caused poor vision on the track and ended with eight drivers involved. Harvick’s teammate Kurt Busch and Truex, Jr. were among the drivers who were unable to escape the carnage.
Truex, Jr. sustained right rear damage after a pair of Earnhardt’s (Jefferey and Dale Jr.) ran into his car while Kurt sustained heavy front nose damage and became the first of three playoff drivers to retire.
Kurt was in a loss for words after hitting Harvick’s right side door.
“It’s tough when you’re running where we were. We were just trying to limp it to stage two and I heard cars spinning off two in my ear. I saw smoke up ahead. Lot of times they’ll come back up and I tried to leave the high side or low side and boom, as soon as the smoke cleared I’m looking at Harvick’s door,” Kurt said. “We’re running for playoffs, both of us. And it’s just a shame that the handling’s off and were both running where we were, but we’re still going to fight all the way to the end, but now we don’t have a chance. I can’t understand the bad luck we are having.”
Kurt dropped from 12th to 15th in the standings, outside the Round of 12 cutoff line. Harvick also failed to finish, taking a huge hit in the standings where he went from third to tenth in points.
Kyle made it through the smoke and wreckage unscathed, taking stage two away from Truex, Jr. who soldiered on and regained the lead on lap 265 after pitting for two tires. Truex, Jr. lost the lead to Kyle on the restart and settled for fifth.
After the race, Truex, Jr. laughed off the lap 150 accident, describing the lack of vision and his turnaround performance.
“I could not see anything and I was just approaching the smoke and I’m like, ‘oh no, where am I going to go?’ Literally I couldn’t see anything,” Truex, Jr. said. “My spotter said, “go low,” by then it was kind of too late. I was already like to the smoke and I couldn’t commit. I just kind of like kept slowing down and then the No. 33 (Jefferey Earnhardt) just came by me on the outside and hit me and spun me down through there so it’s just unfortunate.”
“We were coming to the green-checkered to win the second stage there which would’ve been another bonus point which would be helpful,” Truex, Jr. added. “And then of course we had damage and had to fight from the back of the pack the rest of the day. Proud of our effort to run fifth after all that, but it definitely hurt our day.”
Truex, Jr.’s fifth-place finish was his 12th top 5 of the season and enters Dover with a 24-point lead over Larson, but already locked in the Round of 12 after his win at Chicagoland Sept. 17.
Kenseth came up short of ending his winless streak at the track he last went to victory lane July 17, 2016, describing his car not being up to par with Kyle Busch and Truex, Jr.
“After our first run, I felt we had a third-place car. The No. 78 and No. 18 can get away pretty good. But I think if we got out in front, it might’ve been a different story. I just couldn’t restart very good,” Kenseth said. “That first set of corners, getting through the gears and getting through (turns) one and two, I really struggled. By the time at (turns) three and four, everything was good as long as I can keep that position through one and two, I could actually attack the next guy and get him back but the short runs at the end just kind of got us.”
Kenseth leaves Loudon sixth in points, 43 points ahead of 12th place Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Stenhouse, Jr. holds the tiebreaker with his two wins at Daytona and Talladega to Dillon’s lone win at Charlotte.
Brad Keselowski said his team needs to find speed to dethrone Toyota from victory lane after crossing the line in fourth for his 12th top 5 of the season.
“We want to win. We had a decent Miller Lite Ford. Execution from my pit crew and team was phenomenal. Just nowhere near enough speed,” Keselowski said. “I could tell they did a good job with the car making the most of what we had and real proud of my team for that. But gotta have more speed to beat those Toyotas so we got to figure out something.”
Erik Jones was the highest non-playoff finisher in sixth. Followed by Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano rounding out the top 10.
The race was slowed down six time for 32 laps including one red flag, the 13th of the season.
With one race remaining in the Round of 16, Dillon, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne are the bottom four drivers.
The third stop of the playoffs will take place Oct. 1 at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Truex, Jr. is the defending fall winner and finished third in the spring race behind runner-up Larson and 11-time Dover winner Jimmie Johnson.