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Kyle Busch led Joe Gibbs Racing with a fifth-place finish in tonight’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Meanwhile his teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth finished ninth and 19th respectively in the second of three races in the Contender Round of 12 in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Series Championship.
Busch started the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota on the pole and led the opening 13 laps of the race. A competition caution on lap 25 would bring him down pit road and he restarted second. Busch would reclaim the lead after the restart for another 10 laps or so, but gave way to the 24 once again as he raced patiently through the early going of the 500-mile race. The handling on his Doublemint Camry would change several times over the course of the night, but Busch managed to maintain a spot in the top ten. He would restart in the top spot following a great pit stop by his Doublemint crew with just under 100 laps remaining. He would give up the top spot on the longer runs, but Busch was back out front for a lap 250 restart. He was running seventh late in the race following a round of green flag pit stops. Another late caution would set up a green-white-checker finish and Busch managed to drive his way up to earn a fifth-place finish.
Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota from the third position and settled in to run fourth through the opening 25 laps prior to a competition caution. Early strategies on pit road with several teams taking two tires left Hamlin to restart back a few spots and he would run just outside the top ten on the next green flag run. Hamlin would remain patient while crew chief Darian Grubb and the FedEx crew made adjustments to help him with a car that was tight through the center of turns, but loose exiting the turns. Those adjustments appeared to be paying off over the course of the race as Hamlin drove into the top 10. A great two-tire stop would put Hamlin out second for a restart on lap 272 and he quickly took advantage by moving to the point and leading the next 22 laps. The 4 car would take over the lead with 41 laps to go, but Hamlin would cycle through a final round of green flag stops in the third position. A late caution would set up a green-white-checker finish and the FedEx Camry would get contact from behind that shuffled him back to finish ninth.
Kenseth qualified the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the 22nd position but was forced to start in the back of the field when NASCAR ruled there was an unapproved adjustment on pit road. The setback didn’t deter the 20 team however as Kenseth raced his way into 28th on the opening green flag run prior to a competition caution on lap 25. He would work his way into the top 25 on the ensuing run. Kenseth would continue to slowly make his way toward the top 20, but mostly tight handling conditions would hamper additional progress. The Dollar General Camry would fall a lap off the pace on lap 206, but the team fought back and Kenseth raced his way into the lucky dog position to get back on the lead lap. He would come down pit road for a two-tire stop that gave him track position and he lined up fourth for a lap 272 restart. Kenseth would drive up high on the track in an attempt to improve his position but the 2 car moved in front of him causing the No. 20 Camry to hit the wall. He was able to keep the car on the lead lap, but damage to the right front of the car caused him to drift back in the field. Kenseth would go on to finish 19th.
Kevin Harvick won the race followed by Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. There were eight cautions for a total of 39 laps and 32 lead changes among 14 different drivers.
Kyle Busch is second in the current point standings in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Busch is only six points out of the top spot, while Hamlin is seventh and Kenseth is in ninth. The field will be trimmed to the Eliminator Round of 8 following next weekend’s battle at Talladega Superspeedway. Logano and Harvick automatically advance courtesy of their respective wins last week in Kansas and tonight in Charlotte respectively. Busch is 27 points in front of the cut off and Hamlin is 17 points to good, while Kenseth is just one point out of the eighth and final spot. Ultimately a final Championship 4 will race for the Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship will be at Talladega Superspeedway for the final race of the Contender round under the new Chase format. Live coverage from Talladega will begin on ESPN Sunday, October 19 at 1 PM ET (race begins at 2 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.
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