Kyle Busch continued Joe Gibbs Racing’s domination at 1.5-mile speedways, winning Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Gibbs cars have won five of the six races on 1.5-mile speedways this season. That’s key with half of the 10 Chase races on such tracks.
Busch’s victory, his fourth of the season, also clinched a top-10 spot in the Chase. Others who clinched top-10 spots in the Chase on Sunday were Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth. They join Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer, who had previously clinched. Kasey Kahne secured at least a Wild Card with his two victories this season.
That leaves five Chase spots to be determined this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. NASCAR states that 10 drivers are eligible for those remaining Chase spots.
Kurt Busch heads into Richmond in 10th place in the points – the final automatic spot for the Chase. He earned that spot with a fourth-place finish Sunday night.
“It was just a battle, just a battle all night,’’ said Kurt Busch, who went from 10th to second in one lap on a restart. “The car was not a great car. We missed it, but we’ll take it.’’
Jeff Gordon is 11th in the season standings, six points behind Kurt Busch.
“The track changed quite a bit and we just couldn’t battle up front there forthe lead and for the win like I thought we could have,’’ said Gordon, who finished sixth.
Martin Truex Jr. finished third and heads into Richmond holding the second and final Wild Card spot. He leads Ryan Newman by five points for that spot.
Truex held on to a Wild Card spot with a gritty run, driving with a fractured right wrist.
“It was pretty tough there for a while, just hanging on to the car with my wrist,’‘ Truex said. “It hurt pretty bad there for a while. Just glad we were able to put together a decent night.’’
Defending series champion Brad Keselowski’s struggles continued. He finished 35th after his engine blew late in the race. He fell to 15th in the standings. Keselowski is 28 points out of 10th place. He likely needs a win and even that might not be enough to make the Chase.
“Kind of seems how our year has gone, anything that can go wrong seems to be going wrong,’’ crew chief Paul Wolfe said.
Kyle Busch can relate to those struggles, missing the Chase last year at Richmond.
There are no such worries after he led the final 36 laps to win Sunday.
“I’ll be frank … the last probably four races or five races besides Watkins Glen, we probably weren’t racing to par’’ Kyle Busch said. “Tonight it didn’t look like it was either and then we turned it around and had a great night. That’s what I’m most impressed about.’’
Kyle Busch admitted he wasn’t happy about the car early in the race and was vocal about it.
“We had a lot to overcome,’’ Kyle Busch said. “Dave and these guys stuck with me for as bad as I may have been talking. For as tight as it was and then as loose as it was and just trying to make our way through the field, the green-flag runs that we got, they’re always my best friends.’’
They also helped Joey Logano. He overcame a loose left rear wheel that forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop about a third of the way through the race to finish second. It’s his sixth consecutive top-10 finish and moved him to eighth in the points, improving his chances of making his first Chase.
“This team is super strong and it looks like we’re hitting our stride at the right time right here,’’ Logano said.
Others didn’t have it as well. Clint Bowyer blew an engine while leading. Points leader Jimmie Johnson’s car was damaged in an incident on a restart less than 35 laps into the race. He later spun trying to avoid Jeff Burton as Burton slowed to pit. Denny Hamlin’s frustrations continued. His team changed engines before the race, forcing him to start at the rear and he suffered engine issues in the race. He also spun after being hit from behind by Paul Menard.