NASCAR | Two cars dominate at Loudon

Kyle Busch raises his arms after winning the NASCAR Cup Series 300 auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H., Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Kyle Busch‘s win in Sunday’s NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway came against 38 other cars — though for all practical purposes Busch had only one car to beat. Busch led 187 of 300 laps to advance to the second round of the playoffs and Martin Truex Jr. led 112 circuits on the 1.058-mile oval. That left only one other lap — which runner-up Kyle Larson led — for anybody else.

Here are some stories to note coming out of Loudon’s two-car show:

Busch a bit lucky but mostly good

Busch’s third win of the season was not as drama-free as the statistics would indicate. He came upon a multi-car wreck as the second stage was ending and barely avoided getting damage.

“That was pretty intense,” Busch said. “That was some ‘Days of Thunder’ stuff over there.”

Still, after he sat on the pole, Busch put on his most dominant race of the season. He led 62.3 percent of the laps, his highest rate this season (the most laps he has led this season was 274, or 54.8 percent, on his way to a second-place finish in April at Martinsville). His new Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew, which contributed to his 15th-place finish last week at Chicagoland, executed without a hitch on Sunday.

Truex gambles, but he can afford it

Martin Truex had already advanced to the second round of the playoffs with last week’s win, so his Furniture Row team could take a risk with a late pit stop at Loudon. Truex went from seventh to first on a late pit stop — during a caution period brought out when Kasey Kahne hit the wall — when his No. 78 car took two tires while the rest of the contenders took four. Truex wound up fifth, but he led laps 265-267; otherwise Busch would have led every lap in the second half of the race.

Two others lock up spots

With only one race left in the first round of the playoffs, Truex and Busch are not the only drivers with a ticket to the Round of 12. Larson and Brad Keselowski also are far enough ahead of 13th-place Austin Dillon that they have clinched second-round spots. That leaves 12 cars fighting for eight spots in next week’s elimination race at Dover.

Big wreck ruins playoff chances

The Lap 149 wreck ended the race for a couple of playoff teams and did minor damage to a couple of others, including Truex. Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch took the brunt of the damage, both to their cars and their playoff chances:

Kurt Busch is 15th in points and pretty much must win at Dover to stay in the playoffs. Harvick is still above the cutoff line but fell to 10th in points. Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are tied for 12th, the last spot for advancement; Stenhouse is ahead on a tiebreaker.

Did you know?

Toyota’s dominance on Sunday should have come as no surprise. Truex and Busch both drive for the manufacturer — their teams share a technical alliance — and their runs Sunday continued a pattern. In the past two years, over four races at Loudon, Toyotas have led 97.2 percent of the 1,202 laps. Chevrolet and Ford have combined to lead just 34, including the one which Larson’s Chevrolet led Sunday.

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