Kyle Busch is on a roll. And he got his third win of the season on Sunday with a big assist from some possible oil on the track at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Busch was racing behind leaders Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski as multiple drivers were radioing to NASCAR officials that there was oil on the track and that a caution flag was necessary. The calls went unheeded for a few laps and Busch split Keselowski and Harvick as the three were passing Landon Cassill into turn one on lap 251.
He drove to Harvick's inside and passed the leader as the group drove through turns one and two. The caution finally came out a short time later as the cars were on the backstretch.
The pass wasn't for the lead of the race, however. It was simply to get Busch on the lead lap. But it turned out to be the winning pass as the rest of the field headed to pit road and Busch inherited the lead.
Busch, who led 95 of the race's 301 laps, had pitted early for his final pit stop with the thought that he had a right front tire issue. As the oil calls seemed to multiply over team radios, a caution seemed more and more likely. Had it come down with Busch a lap down, he would have started at the tail end of the field. It waited just long enough.
"Luckily I got back to the lead lap before the yellow came out, but man, that saved us right there," Busch said in victory lane.
He said he didn't know if the pass he made to get back on the lead lap would turn into the pass for the win.
"Five laps, I just drove as hard as I could off pit road. I knew I needed to get those guys. They were telling me [David Gilliland] was the lucky dog [first car one lap down] spot and once I got there I was like 'OK, what else do I have to do to get back on the lead lap?'"
"I figured it was [Harvick] still, and it was and [Harvick] and [Keselowski] were really the class of the field I felt like today. Our car was a close third but ... on the long runs our front end would die and just couldn't turn."
Busch was the leader when the race restarted. He pulled away from Keselowski on the restart and built up a lead of over two seconds before Keselowski mounted a late and futile challenge that ended when a caution flag flew on the final lap.
The win still leaves Busch more than a race out of the top 30 in points. After missing the first 11 races of the season because of a broken leg and broken foot at Daytona in February, Busch still has an uphill climb to make the top 30 in the standings to get to the Chase.
But the ascent has transitioned from a rugged climb up the Rockies to a one in the Applachians.
Busch returned to the Cup Series 179 points back of 30th place. He's now 58 points out of the top 30 with seven races before the Chase. He's gone from needing to gain approximately 12 points per race on 30th place to eight.
He's still not guaranteed to make the top 30. One bad finish thanks to an engine failure or someone else's mishap could skew the average towards its original starting point. But it's become more likely that Busch will make the Chase. And if he does, he could start the postseason as high as the second seed.
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