Kyle Busch Wins Atlanta!
Kyle Busch and the M&Ms team patiently waited for their opportunity, and then made the most of it when it came, to earn a win in tonight’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Meanwhile Matt Kenseth battled from a lap down to a 12th-place finish, while a mechanical failure ended what was already a rough night for Hamlin, who finished 38th.
Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota from the ninth position and was able to race as high as third through the early going but changing track conditions caused his Camry to experience extremely tight handling conditions and he would fall back to race in 11th at the 100-lap mark. Busch would continue to hold strong while the team made improvements to the handling of his car with each pit stop and he ran 10th at the halfway point. Busch continued to hold steady and remained patient while running eighth at lap 200. The M&Ms Camry would come down pit road with the race under caution on lap 207 and the 18 team sent Busch out to restart fifth on lap 213. He would get shuffled back on the restart but managed to gain those spots back over the course of the next run allowing him to pit from fourth under the green flag on lap 253. When the field had cycled through Busch was racing in second place. The M&Ms crew was amazing on pit road all night long, but they may well have saved their best work for the end, when an amazing stop under caution vaulted Busch from third to first for a restart with 36 to go. He would retain that lead through the restart but another caution would come just a couple laps later. Once again Busch would hold the spot, but once again another caution shortly followed. The field would line up again with 21 laps to go and the 56 would give a big challenge on the restart, but Busch held the spot once more. This time the race stayed green to the finish and Busch kept his M&Ms Camry out front to earn his fourth win of the year and lock in his spot for the Chase.
Kenseth started the No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota sixth and was able to hold that position through the majority of the first third of the race, but he would have to bring the car down pit road for unscheduled stop on lap 106 when he felt something wrong with his right front tire. When he returned to the track he would find himself a lap down to the leaders. Kenseth would momentarily work his way back on the lead lap while on a different pit cycle as the leaders, but unfortunately a much needed caution would not come and eventually he would fall a lap down again when he came down pit road on lap 170. The Home Depot Husky Camry was a handful to handle tonight, but the 20 team continued to make adjustments to help it turn and with 100 laps to go Kenseth was tracking down the 17 car in hopes of claiming the lucky dog position on the next caution. He would race his way into that position with 50 laps to go and a short time later that much needed caution would finally come when the 48 car spun across the track. Kenseth would line up 17th for the restart with 36 to go. He would make the most of the opportunity racing his way back inside the top ten with 20 to go. Kenseth would go on to finish the night in 12th.
Hamlin qualified the No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota in the fourth position, but the team had to change engines following Saturday’s first practice session resulting in having to start the race from the back of the field as per NASCAR rules. Once the race started Hamlin was able to climb his way through the field thanks to a fast Camry. He would run inside the top 20 when he felt something strange in the car. Hamlin would get a timely caution allowing him to bring the car down pit road and everything appeared to check out, but NASCAR ruled that the team pitted outside of the box resulting in a one lap penalty. Unfortunately miscommunication led Hamlin to believe it was a pass through penalty which he served after the restart. However, NASCAR ruled that it needed to be a stop and go penalty and Hamlin was forced to bring his No. 11 car back down pit road a second time. By the time he was able to get back to racing he found himself two laps down. He would fight hard to get one of those laps back but was still running a lap down back in 27th when the race reached halfway. When the race reached the 200 lap mark, Hamlin was one of the fastest cars on the track, but still fighting for an opportunity to get back on the lead lap. On lap 205 the 27 car would drive into the back of Hamlin’s Sport Clips Camry causing him to spin across the track. Although he managed to keep the car off the wall, his right front tire would blow while he was trying to drive back around to pit road. The tire would essentially blow his right front fender apart. The Sport Clips crew would make repairs to keep the 11 in the race, but Hamlin would restart two laps down on lap 213. With just under 100 laps to go Hamlin would report a mechanical issue with his Sport Clips Camry and pulled it into the garage for an early end to an otherwise frustrating night. He would officially finish 38th.
Kyle won the race, followed by Joey Logano, Martin Truex, Jr., Kurt Busch, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five. There were nine cautions for a total of 47 laps and 28 lead changes among 13 different drivers.