After winning the three-time-weather-delayed Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday, Kyle Busch climbed from his car and pointed to the image of a zombie on his helmet.
“This is what we’ve all looked like around here for the last three days,” Busch said. “Everybody just zombied into their phones.”
In reality, 72 hours, 28 minutes and 34 seconds elapsed between the time NASCAR red-flagged the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs race Sunday and lifted the red at 5:03 p.m. ET Wednesday afternoon after many attempts to dry the track and complete the event Monday and Tuesday.
Using every trick in his arsenal, and with constant direction from crew chief Adam Stevens, Busch saved enough fuel over the last green-flag run to get 66 laps out of his last tank of gas. Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota ran out of fuel during the celebratory burnout on the frontstretch.
The victory was Busch’s first of the season, preserving a 16-year streak of winning at least one race per season, starting with his rookie year in 2005. It was his third win at the 1.5-mile speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, and the 57th of his career.
“We finally got it,” Busch said. “I was so nervous… I was nervous the whole last run. I’ve been in this position so many times. The last three laps, though, that’s like winning the championship. That’s how nervous I was.
“I can’t believe it, but just so proud to be here. My team guys, awesome pit stops, they were phenomenal. We’re ready to fight next year — we’ll be back.”
The victory also was welcome consolation for the reigning series champion, who was eliminated from the playoffs in the Round of 12.
By winning, though, Busch frustrated teammate and playoff driver Martin Truex Jr., who likely needed a victory at either Texas or Sunday at Martinsville Speedway to advance to the Championship 4 event at Phoenix Raceway. After his final green-flag pit stop on Lap 276 of 334 — eight laps after Busch came to pit road for the last time and packed his Camry full of fuel — Truex chased his teammate, trimming a deficit of more than five seconds to .468 seconds at the finish line.
“We knew he was close (on fuel),” Truex said. “The only thing we could do at that point is what we did all day anyway, which is try to run flat-out. Hell of an effort by the guys… It seems like one of those years when we’re second, third, fourth. We’re there a lot. We just needed a little bit more to be better.”
Sunoco rookie Christopher Bell ran third, followed by Ryan Blaney and playoff driver Alex Bowman. Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano completed the top 10. Clint Bowyer won the first stage and led 89 laps, but he was forced to pit with 24 laps remaining. He slipped to a 17th-place finish in what’s set to be his final Texas start.
Logano already has qualified for the Championship 4 with a victory Oct. 18 at Kansas Speedway. Kevin Harvick finished 16th after suffering damage from a brush with the wall Sunday (when 52 laps were completed), but the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford remained 42 points above the playoff cutline.
Hamlin and Keselowski are 27 and 25 points, respectively, above the cutoff heading to Sunday’s elimination race at Martinsville. Chase Elliott had to make an unplanned pit stop to change a corded tire, lost a lap and finished 20th. Both he and Bowman, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, are 25 points behind Keselowski in the standings, in danger of falling out of the playoffs.
The Round of 8 finale is the Xfinity 500, scheduled Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the .526-mile Martinsville track. The 500-lapper will be the next-to-last race of the year.
Notes: The No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford (driven by Ryan Newman), the No. 12 Team Penske Ford (driven by Blaney) and the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford (driven by Bowyer) were all found to have one lug nut not safe and secure. Those teams’ crew chiefs will face a fine from NASCAR later this week.
Contributing: Staff reports