HAMPTON, Ga. – With a big hand from his pit crew, Kyle Busch locked up his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship with his fourth victory of the year Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Busch emerged with the lead after a rapid-fire series of caution flags near the end, and he held off hard-charging Joey Logano to win by 0.740 seconds.
“My boys on pit road,” Busch said. “They’re amazing. I would do anything for them.”
Martin Truex Jr., racing with a broken right wrist, was third on the 1.54-mile trioval, followed by Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman.
The rest of the top 10: Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and Brian Vickers.
Kyle Busch was among four more drivers locking up their spot in the Chase heading to Richmond next weekend, where the 12-car field will be set for the playoff. He was joined by Harvick, Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne.
Points leader Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth had already claimed playoff berths before Atlanta.
Busch earned his 16th win of the year in NASCAR’s top three series. He has nine victories in Nationwide and three in trucks.
Logano had the fastest car on the track at the end of the race, but ran out of time to run down Busch.
“It’s just frustrating,” Logano said. “But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a big points day for us to get into the Chase going to Richmond. This helps us a lot. A win would’ve helped a lot more.”
Bowyer was dominant through the middle of the race, leading 48 laps, but he radioed his crew that something didn’t seem right in his No. 15 car. On Lap 193, those fears became reality when smoke started pouring from the back of his Toyota going into Turn 1. He managed to creep back around to pit road, but he headed straight for the garage, any hope of winning the race snuffed out.
“I don’t think they wanted to believe me,” Bowyer said about his crew. “But I was pretty sure what I was hearing.”
At least Bowyer won’t have to worry about his 39th-place finish costing him a spot in the Chase.
That wasn’t the case for defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski.
Winless for the year and on the Chase bubble, he took over the lead and looked as if he had a shot at a much-needed victory. But his engine dropped a couple of cylinders and he began dropping back, finally sputtering to a stop 18 laps from the finish. He finished 35th and will go to Richmond knowing he likely needs a victory to even have a shot at taking a second straight title. He slipped to 15th in the standings, 28 points behind 10th-place Kurt Busch.
“There’s just some things you can’t control,” Keselowski said. “I guess we’ll look at the positive. We were leading the race when it broke. We were doing all the right things. We just didn’t put all the pieces together.”
Truex made it through the grueling race, which lasted some four hours, even though his cast was in the tatters at the end.
“It hurts like hell when you’re steering the car,” he said.
Kahne, finished 36th, but he locked up at least a wild card because he has two victories on the year.