By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
AVONDALE, Arizona — Going into Sunday’s Bluegreen Vacations 500 at ISM Raceway, it was possible that one driver would make the Championship 4 via points. The man who claimed the final spot was runner-up finisher Kyle Busch.
In a battle that boiled down between his teammate Denny Hamlin and rival Joey Logano, one spot would’ve made the difference of having three Joe Gibbs Racing drivers battling for the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway or not.
After wall contact from John Hunter Nemechek on Lap 303, the field would bunch up for one more restart but also play a little game called pit strategy.
Busch opted for four fresh tires while Hamlin went for two as did Ryan Blaney and JGR teammate Martin Truex, Jr. Therefore, on the restart, Busch would be fourth in line.
Once the green flag dropped, Busch went into full sent mode and put his No. 18 M&Ms Toyota Camry all the way down to the apron to get by Truex and Blaney. So the battle for the win came down to those two drivers.
When it came down to it, Busch’s mindset was on himself of making it to Homestead instead of thinking about the potential ramifications of him winning meaning Hamlin would be eliminated.
“Denny was on the outside and had control of the restart and everything,” Busch on the three-lap shootout. “I was trying to get by the 12 and do what I could. I heard for a moment we were three-wide in the corner, and I lost front grip because I went that low and just got dirt on my tires.
“Once it recovered and I got up off the corner, luckily I was ahead of the 12 already, but I was behind the 11. Once that happened, I couldn’t really get close enough to the 11. Two tires is better than four.”
As Hamlin got in the Championship 4 with a Phoenix win, Busch beat ninth-place Logano for the final playoff spot. Now Busch is determined to go for a second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship despite haven’t visiting victory lane since Pocono in June, 21 races ago.
“Fight as hard as we can, do the best job we can, exactly what we did today. Today we just weren’t good enough,” Busch said. “Next week we’ll just have to make sure that we are. Somehow, some way, if it works out, it was meant to be. If it doesn’t, then it’s not. Hopefully the sun will come up for another day.”
With two other JGR teammates that’s also competing for a Cup title, Busch has never questioned his ability to race for victories or in the case of next Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400, win another Cup.
“I never questioned our ability or opportunity to be able to go out and achieve and get ourselves into the final four,” Busch said. “We had a rough road, but other teams had it rougher. We’re here and that’s the good part.”