A Chip Ganassi Racing operation that’s about to transform next season showed it still has some teamwork left in the tank Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, much to Kyle Busch’s dismay.
Kurt Busch outlasted Kyle in a battle of brothers in Sunday’s Quaker State 400, helped by a late-race traffic jam that gave him the lead to stay in the 236th of 260 laps. Central to that traffic delay was Ganassi teammate Ross Chastain, whose No. 42 Chevrolet slowed the progress of Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and allowed Kurt Busch to pull alongside in the No. 1 Chevy. Kurt Busch drove on to his first Cup Series win of the season, and his brother was left in second place — just shy of securing his 60th Cup Series win.
“Would’ve been a hell of a lot better if it wasn’t for some butthead. But it is what it is,” Kyle Busch told PRN Radio. “It was ours to lose and we lost it.”
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The victory sealed a provisional playoff spot in Chip Ganassi’s final season as owner of the two-car effort. Trackhouse Racing announced June 30 that it had purchased Ganassi’s organization and assets, setting a course for a two-car team with Daniel Suarez and another driver to be named later.
The futures of Kurt Busch and Chastain may be uncertain for now, but their late-race cooperation equaled quite the farewell gift for Ganassi’s final campaign.
“Shake and bake! Yeah, and the 42, he did his job as a teammate,” Kurt Busch told NBC Sports post-race. “Ross is going to get a little flak for it, but that’s what it takes to be a good teammate at the right moment, so I couldn’t be more proud of Ross Chastain. I’ll pay him back eventually, but right now this is our No. 1 car in Victory Lane.”
Chastain’s 21st-place finish in his 100th Cup Series start was more eventful than the stat sheet would imply. He was fighting to remain on the lead lap when the two brothers — who had been dominant all day — closed on his No. 42 entry in their late-race contest for the lead.
Chastain didn’t clear a path for Kyle Busch as he led down the stretch, and that decision allowed Kurt Busch to snatch the inside lane away. The three drivers eventually worked through Turns 1 and 2 three-wide before Kurt Busch seized an advantage he would not relinquish down the stretch.
Chastain deflected when asked about Kyle Busch’s lot in their late-race scrum, but acknowledged lending a helping hand to his teammate.
“Kurt asked for the bottom so I gave him that lane,” said Chastain, who joined Chip Ganassi Racing full-time just this season. “I was racing to stay on the lead lap. I’m very aware of what’s going on on the track around me. Kurt asked me for the bottom and I gave it to him. …
“To see a Chip Ganassi car in Victory Lane with all that’s happened the last couple of weeks and all this year, there is nothing I want more. One team, one goal and that’s to win.”
There was little consolation to the No. 18 group, which stood out as the lone reliable contender to the elder Busch’s efforts with the No. 1 car. The Busch brothers split the stage wins, and Kyle Busch led 91 laps — second only to Kurt Busch’s 144. No other driver led more than 15 laps.
“Good car all day,” No. 18 spotter Tony Hirschman said on the cool-down lap. “Just got teamed up on there, dirtied up.” Kyle Busch seconded that assessment in his post-race remarks with NBC Sports, saying that his tires were burned up late in that run, but adding: “It shows you what kind of driver he is.”
Kyle Busch did drop in on the No. 1 team’s celebration to provide compulsory congratulations on his brother’s win, a brotherly 1-2 result that Kurt said he hoped would not linger with any sore feelings.
“He did stop by Victory Lane and do the Kyle Busch grumpy. That’s what I expected,” Kurt Busch said. Yeah, again, what happened on track was the perfect scenario for a teammate to do the work that he needed to do. If I’m running third, Ross isn’t part of the equation. That was exactly what a teammate needs to do, and Ross did that in a way that gave me a sense of pride on the education and the mentorship that I have helped Ross with this year. It was a perfect give-back.
“Can we do that in the playoffs? No. Can you do that in a regular season where one guy has won and one guy is trying to run hard? Today was a perfect scenario for that to unfold, and Kyle will get over it pretty quick. … Yeah, I believe that no line was crossed, and it was that right finesse to make it happen.”