LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Kyle Busch saw little but billowing white smoke that engulfed the track and blinded enough drivers that it caused a tremendous wreck that sunk his toughest competition.
In his No. 18 Toyota, the driver nicknamed “Rowdy” knew there was only one way to handle the sudden pollution: Drive through it!
Busch slinked through the smoke clouds formed in the multi-car crash on the backstretch and dominated the rest of the way to win Sunday’s Monster Energy Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motorspeedway.
“That was pretty intense,” Busch said. “That was some ‘Days of Thunder’ stuff over there. You couldn’t see anything.”
He held on and saw a victory lane celebration for the third time this season. Busch earned a berth in the second round of NASCAR’s playoffs and took his customary bow on the track. He even stuck a bag of M&M’s on the claws of Loudon the Lobster , the 18-pound crustacean given to the race winner.
Busch, who won from the pole, put together a complete effort once the wreck derailed race leader and fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. Truex, who won the playoff opener at Chicagoland, and Busch both earned automatic spots in the second round. Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski advanced on points.
Truex led 112 laps until his run ended in the accident, though he rallied to finish fifth.
The playoff standings were shaken up in the wake of the massive multi-car wreck that sent playoff drivers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick to the garage. Harvick’s car was hit by Austin Dillon on the last lap of the second stage. Harvick spun and smoke billowed over the track, leaving drivers almost blinded to the traffic ahead. Busch, Harvick’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, slammed into Harvick. Truex backed up to straighten himself out and instead suffered left-rear damage when he smacked another car.
Kurt Busch, the Daytona 500 champion, will likely have to win next week at Dover to advance to the second round.
“It’s all-in. We’ll go there with everything we’ve got like we have been,” he said.
Harvick, the 2014 series champion, had accumulated enough playoff points that one DNF shouldn’t cost him a spot in the top 12.
Playoff drivers filled the top five spots: Larson was second, followed by Matt Kenseth, Keselowski and Truex.
Kyle Busch, who had his shot at victory at Chicagoland end because of pit road miscues, survived the wreckage to lead 187 laps and showed that Joe Gibbs Racing will be a player in the postseason. He found the opening between the wall and Harvick and won his 41st Cup race.
Maybe next time, Busch will have a clear path to the checkered flag.
“That was a close call,” Busch said. “The cloud of smoke was so large that you literally couldn’t see anything.”
Larson and Brad Keselowski also advanced on points to the second round. Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne are the bottom four drivers in the playoff standings.
The first cutoff race is held at Dover. Truex won this race last season. Johnson’s win in the spring race this year was his 11th at the track.