TALLADEGA, Ala. — Kurt Busch was one corner and a straightaway from his second victory of the season and an automatic ticket into the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
However, Busch’s No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford ran out of gas in Turn 4 on the final lap of the 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Busch steered to the bottom of the track and watched helplessly as teammate Aric Almirola charged past him and claimed the overtime win.
Busch started from the pole led a race-high 108 of 193 laps. Stewart-Haas dominated the event in unprecedented fashion, grabbing the top four positions in qualifying and finishing 1-2-3-4 in both stages before Almirola took the checkered flag with teammate Clint Bowyer behind him.
“It was a very different Talladega for me,” said Busch, who rolled across the finish line in 14th place. “I really enjoyed leading the race, working with my teammates. I’m really happy a Stewart-Haas car won, but the four of us, I’ve never seen so much synergy.
“We knew we were going to have to race when we got to Kansas (next Sunday). It would have been nice to have the win. We’re here to win.”
Almirola got the ticket into the Round of 8 with the victory, but Busch leaves Talladega 30 points above the cut line, a relatively comfortable margin.
“That’s good stuff,” Busch said. “We had 21 (points) coming into this, and if you can bank nine and get the heck out of Talladega, that sounds good.”
Kyle Larson’s balky No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet qualified 34th on Saturday. After unapproved adjustments to the car, Larson started last on Sunday.
After that, things got worse. On lap 104 of 193, Larson blew a left rear tire and spun on the backstretch, losing a lap in the process.
Timely cautions and attrition, however, came to his rescue. Larson got his lap back as the beneficiary under caution for the end of Stage 2. And after spending most of the afternoon running mid-pack, he dodged late accidents to finish 11th — a stunning result given the lack of strength in his car.
“We just had a terrible race car and were really slow all weekend,” Larson said after the race. “We were able to salvage a decent finish, but the Fords are so fast here and can rack up a lot of stage points.
“Even when they have a bad day, they still gain points on us. It is what it is. We’ll just go to Kansas and try and win.”
With the Round of 12 cutoff race at Kansas set for next Sunday, Larson faces elimination from the playoffs. He’s 11th in the standings, 26 points behind reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr., who is currently in eighth place.
Larson finished fourth at Kansas in May.
“Yeah, Kansas is a good track for us,” Larson. “We’ve challenged for wins there in the past, and hopefully we can go there next week and be strong.”
“Strong” might not be good enough. Given his position in the standings, Larson may have to win to advance.
TRUEX FIGHTS ILL-HANDLING CAR TO STAY ABOVE CUT LINE
From a handling standpoint, the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota of defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. was pure evil on Sunday at Talladega.
Truex fought the car from the outset, and no amount of tinkering by his crew on pit road could define and fix the problem. Truex had no choice but to run in the back of the field and try to stay out of trouble.
The only breaks he got came late — a caution that gave him a chance to come to pit road for new tires for a two-lap overtime and his deft avoidance of serious damage in a Turn 1 wreck on the final lap.
Truex salvaged a 23rd-place finish, ahead of fellow playoff contenders Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, who had to pit for fuel before the last restart. As a result, eighth-place Truex heads for next Sunday’s Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway 18 points ahead of ninth-place Keselowski and 22 ahead of 10th-place Blaney.
“It didn’t really matter what we did to the car,” Truex said. “(The problem) didn’t go away. We tried a lot of stuff. It was tough to drive. It couldn’t even go straight. I could run hard for two or three laps. As soon as the tires got some air pressure, I was just hanging on. The longer the runs were, the worse it got.
“There was no chance of me just getting up there and racing. I wanted to. Luckily, we were able to get some tires there in the end. I could go for about three laps. I felt good going to the green-white-checkered. They wrecked in front of us, and we barely made it through. As soon as we got through there, I was able to salvage something.”
—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.