“It feels great,” Busch said. “This is what it’s all about, you know? We’re supposed to do these things and it feels even better when we can do those things and, you know, we’ve missed out on a lot of opportunities, I feel like, this year, but today we were able to execute all day long.”
Chevrolet driver Larson was second, Toyota driver Matt Kenseth was third, and Ford driver Brad Keselowski was fourth.
“I mean, obviously you want to win,” Larson said. “And second is the first loser. But, second is also not bad; especially when you get to the playoffs. Winning is very important, but also consistency is just as important. We got a fifth last week and a second today with even better Stage points, so that was pretty much the day that we needed. Obviously, a win would have been great, but second was just as good.”
Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. was fifth. The rest of the top 10: rookie Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, rookie Daniel Suárez, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano.
Busch, the pole-winner, led 39 of the first 40 laps and 148 of the next 260, generally without serious pressure. Truex easily led at the first 75-lap stage and Busch led at the second 75-lap stage. The 300-lap race featured only six lead changes among Busch (187 laps), Truex (112), and Larson (1).
The race’s only serious incident came when nine cars crashed together at lap 150, at the end of the second stage. Playoff drivers Truex, Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick were involved, along with Danica Patrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his nephew, Jeffrey Earnhardt. Teammates Harvick and Kurt Busch were eliminated on the spot — they finished 36th and 37th, respectively — and suffered severe damage to their championship hopes. Truex suffered cosmetic damage and had to come from deep in the field to earn his top-five finish.
Busch and Harvick took serious points hits.
“We’re both running for the playoffs, and it’s a shame the handling was off,” Busch said of his and Harvick’s simultaneous DNFs. “But we were still going to fight all the way to the end, Now, we don’t have a chance. (Next week at Dover) is all-in. We’ll go there with everything we’ve got.”
Harvick’s car wasn’t badly damaged, but he couldn’t back it away from the scene and return to his pit for repairs.
“We couldn’t get unlocked from Kurt’s car for whatever reason,” he said. “Our Fords were locked together and I couldn’t get it to back up. I ripped reverse out trying to get it to go backwards.”
Busch, Harvick and Kasey Kahne (a late-race suspension failure) were the only playoff drivers with significant issues. Ricky Stenhouse had wall contact early, but managed to keep going and finished 15th. Hamlin never fully recovered (he finished 12th) after losing laps with an unscheduled pit stop early in the third stage. Other than Kahne, Harvick and Kurt Busch, every playoff driver finished on the lead lap, six of them in the top 10.
“Something broke,” Kahne said. “I think they said trackbar, but that is all I know I didn’t talk to Darien (Grubb, crew chief). But, that is what he had said while we were in the garage. We were working hard. We got really loose that first run and then got control of the car. And then it was really tough to pass, but we worked our way back up and were passing for 12th when that happened. Who knows how the final restarts go and all that, but we were making gains. I think we had a top-10 car if the restarts went the right waym otherwise a top 15 and we move on to Dover.”
The final race of the Round of 16 comes at Dover next Sunday with the Apache Warrior 400, where four drivers will be eliminated. Live coverage will be on the NBC Sports Network at 2:00 p.m. ET.