By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
DARLINGTON, S.C. – From the back to the front, Kyle Busch came within laps of challenging Erik Jones for victory in the Bojangles Southern 500.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was chasing his teammate down in the closing laps. Busch made quick work of Kyle Larson as he closed in on Jones. The No. 18 Snickers Throwback Toyota Camry moved closer and closer to the No. 20 as the laps clicked off.
With three laps to go, it looked as if the race would come down to the final lap when Busch blew a right front tire. The 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver pounded the wall. Busch limped around Darlington Raceway and took the checkered flag in third.
Although Busch admitted that his tire wasn’t going to survive until the end of the race, he was still critical of the no-caution call from the sanctioning body.
“When he started to inch out a little bit, I was trying to save my right front because I knew my right front wasn’t going to make it the whole rest of the way without me knocking the wall down, and I was right. I hit the wall with about four to go and then I hit it again with three to go, and it killed it that time.
“Luckily, we were able to salvage a third, just dragging the fence for the last two laps. I don’t think I’ve ever seen NASCAR not throw a caution in that scenario ‑ oh, yes I have, that’s right. I blew a left-front tire at California in an Xfinity race and we had to finish the whole last lap, so doesn’t surprise me.”
The top-five came after a mechanical issue in qualifying left Busch 33rd on the starting grid. He then had to start from the rear of the field after an engine change.
Although Busch didn’t win the race, he earned enough points to clinch the regular season championship. With that, he earned 15 playoff points in addition to the one he earned for his stage two win. Busch is now guaranteed 45 playoff points minimum at the start of the playoffs.
Teammates Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr., who are the two closest competitors in the playoff point tally, will begin the playoffs with at least 23 playoff points each.
The third-place finish was the 13th for Busch this season and 196th of his Cup Series career.