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NASCAR at Las Vegas: Kurt Busch lucks out in Cup; Briscoe wins Xfinity; Hill beats Creed in Trucks Series

NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
• Kurt Busch rolls the dice to win his hometown race

Las Vegas, NV, Sept 27/20 (GRW): Kurt Busch grew up in Las Vegas and made his start in racing here but, in all his races at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he had never won once. This time a quirky turn of events and a strong run in the final laps paid off for him in a win. Under NASCAR’s current championship process, this win vaults him into the next round of the playoffs, the ‘round of 8', and keeps his hopes of winning a championship alive for another day. Make no mistake, this win at Vegas was a fluke and his chances of actually winning the 2020 NASCAR Cup championship are still slim to none – but that does not take away from his ecstasy in finally winning a big race in his home town and from his basking in the relief of not having to worry about wrecking out of the next two races – both with a well-deserved reputation as demolition derbies in which even the best drivers can be knocked out in a big wreck.

For most of this 268-lap race it looked like it was Denny Hamlin’s race to win. He took the lead during the early-race competition caution and, after that he looked like the most likely to win. Leading 121 laps. He won the first Stage which ended on lap 80. Then he took the restart from the top of the second row but he immediately shot out into the lead again ahead of Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch. The second and third Stages – at 80 and 107 laps – were too long to go without a mid-Stage pit stop for fuel. Both of them saw a round of green-flag pit stops mid-Stage.

In the second Stage, this round of green-flag pit stops cycled through without incident and Elliott emerged as the leader ahead of Hamlin and Alex Bowman – and that is the way they finished the second Stage.

On the restart to begin the final Stage, Hamlin took the lead ahead of Elliott and Bowman. A few laps later there was a yellow for debris but Hamlin held on to the lead ahead of Bowman and Matt DiBenedetto. Martin Truex passed DiBenedetto for third on lap 217. Now with about 50 laps left in the race, the story line seemed set – Hamlin was going to win with some combination of the other drivers who had been running at the front coming in close behind.

But that expectation was about to be blown up completely by the interrupted round of green-flag pit stops in this final Stage.

About lap 230, this round of green-flag pit stops began. Most of the divers in the front half of the field came in early in this round and all of them had stopped before the race’s fifth caution came out, stranding them all a lap down and leaving those who had yet to pit in control.

This left Kurt Busch, who had never run anywhere near the front up to this, in the lead. The cars that had been trapped a lap down took the wave-around but they were still trapped at the back of the pack of lead-lap cars.

On the restart Busch (Kurt, that is) jumped out into the lead ahead of DiBenedetto and Christopher Bell. Hamlin was in pursuit, back in 13th place, Another quick caution and restart and Busch again beat DiBenedetto and Bowman on the restart but Hamlin was now in sixth place.

Next, Bell hit the wall and collected William Byron bringing out the seventh and final caution on lap 262 – by the time this was cleaned up the race was going into green-white-checker overtime. Again Busch was on the front row with DiBenedetto alongside for the restart – with Hamlin in the third row. Could Busch hold on for his storybook win or would Hamlin win yet another race?

Once again Busch got a good start and he squirted out ahead of DiBenedetto. Hamlin surged forward but it was too late to catch the flying Busch. The Las Vegas native took the checker ahead of DiBenedetto and then Hamlin – and he was guaranteed a place in the final three-race elimination round no matter what happens at Talladega or Charlotte in the next two weeks.

“This is what kids dream of when they grow up racing, you dream of winning at your home town track,” Busch said. “For two decades it’s kicked my butt and tonight with this Monster Energy Chevy, I’m in awe. I knew the race would come to us. We needed to get to night-fall and one of those quirky [crew chief] Matt McCall pit sequences finally unfolded and we got lucky. You have to be lucky and you have to be lucky in any race, but we did it tonight with teamwork, pulling through and not giving up.”

As for Hamlin, he said, “Just same thing as happened at Darlington, untimely cautions. That’s what’s keeping us out of Victory Lane. We obviously had a dominant car today and I’m proud of the whole FedEx team for giving me such a great car, by far the best car I’ve had in Las Vegas and maybe a long time at any mile-and-a-half [track]. Just really happy with it. Really encouraged by the way we ran, obviously just very disappointed we didn’t get a win.”

With the wreck-fests of Talladega and the Charlotte ROVAL coming up next, we can expect more unexpected results in this playoff round.

And what of Kyle Busch, Kurt’s younger brother and the defending NASCAR Cup champion, who has yet to win a single race this year and who predicted after last week’s race at Bristol that he would be eliminated from contention in this round of the playoffs? Coming away from Las Vegas, he is nine points below the cut line and who knows what might happen in the next two races?

• Click HERE for the results of the Las Vegas Cup Series race.

• The next NASCAR Cup race will be run next Sunday, October 4, at the Charlotte road course.

PHOTO NXS LVMS2 Briscoe Cindric Gragson 092620Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson and Austin Cindric take a restart in the Alsco 300 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images) 

NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
• Briscoe makes it eight Xfinity wins

Las Vegas, NV, Sept 26/20 (GRW): Earlier this year, Chase Briscoe vowed that he would win eight Xfinity races to prove that he was ready to move up to the Cup Series. At the time, it seemed like he was over-reaching in trying to match a record that had stood since Sam Ard and Jack Ingram had each won eight times back in 1984. But here at Las Vegas, with six races yet to be run, Briscoe made good on his goal. He led 164 of the race’s 200 laps on his way to the win.

Based on NASCAR’s calculations, Briscoe had lined up for the start of the race alongside Austin Cindric, with his five wins, another favourite to win the series title. Briscoe jumped out into the lead for the first 13 laps before Cindric won the restart after the first caution on lap 9. But, six laps later, another yellow flew when the Truck Series star Austin Hill spun – and Ross Chastain, who had passed Briscoe on the previous restart, beat out Cindric to assume the race lead.

This only lasted for 15 laps before Briscoe resumed command. Chastain was in hot pursuit until he rubbed the wall and fell back a bit.

The order was still Briscoe then Chastain when the first Stage ended – but Cindric had fallen back to seventh place and, after that the best he could do was second, finishing the race in sixth place.

Briscoe was able to maintain his lead right through the 45 green-flag laps of the second Stage, wining it ahead of Noah Gragson and Cindric. Everyone pitted for fuel and tires and, when the racing resumed again, the front three took up where they had left off.

This final Stage was 110 laps long and this meant that everyone would have to pit for fuel again. About lap 145, cars started to peel off and come down to the pits, setting off this cycle of green-flag pit stops. On lap 155, after every one had pitted by Michael Annett, the yellow was shown because a tire had rolled out onto the grass in front of pit lane in the tri-oval. This kept Annett from going a lap down and he was rewarded with a seventh-place finish.

Briscoe, Gragson and Cindric resumed their chase for the lead until the sixth, and final caution, came on lap 188 when Alex Labbé’s car died and he coasted in, stopping just at the entrance to the pit lane. Cindric fell to fifth place during this extra round of pit stops.

On green, Briscoe and Gragson both resumed their quest for the win but Briscoe held off Gragson and he took the checker by a 1.4-second margin. Daniel Hemric was third, Justin Allgaier fourth and Ryan Sieg fifth.

Briscoe said, “We’ve had a lot of wins this year, but this was by far our most dominant car. I’m so glad I can sleep a little bit easer this week going into Talladega and the [Charlotte] Roval and just enjoy. I knew this team is fully capable of achieving that and even more. I just can’t say thank you enough to [team owners] Gene Haas and Tony Stewart and everybody that lets me drive these race cars. It’s been an unbelievable season and we’ve still got six more wins to try and gain and a championship so that’s what we’ll try to do.”

As for Gragson, he said, “Just didn’t have enough for the 98 [Briscoe], a lot of race cars out here and one space shuttle.”

• Click HERE for the results of the Alsco 300 at Las Vegas
• The next Xfinity Series race will be held next Saturday, October 3rd.

PHOTO NGROTS LVMS Hill Creed 092520Austin Hill, driver of the #16 Weins Canada Toyota, leads Sheldon Creed during the World of Westgate 200 (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series World of Westgate 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
• Hill holds off Creed for the win

Las Vegas, NV, Sept 25/20 (GRW): Sheldon Creed looked set to dominate this 134-lap race, taking the lead on the second lap and winning both the first and second Stages but he fell back to seventh coming off the fifth and final caution on lap 96. Austin Hill had taken over the lead by then and even though Creed soon caught him up and then mounted a very strong challenge, Hill rose to the occasion and lap-after-lap he managed to stay ahead of Creed who was getting ever closer. In the end, it was Hill who took the checker, half-a-second ahead of Creed.

For most of the race, Creed looked to be in command. In the first Stage, he started from fourth but he grabbed to lead from the polesitter Brett Moffitt on the second lap. After that, he led every lap in the first Stage with Moffitt in hot pursuit right behind him. The second Stage started off much the same with Creed ahead of Moffitt but, by the end of the Stage, Zane Smith had passed Moffitt for second behind Creed.

It had been possible to run the full length of each of the first two Stages on a tank of fuel so the only cautions had been the artificial ones – competition caution and end-of-Stage cautions. But the final Stage was 74 laps long, making it necessary to make a mid-Stage pit stop, yellow or not, for more fuel and tires.

Ben Rhodes had come into his pit early in the first Stage with smoke coming out from under his truck. The crew could not identify the problem so, after checking it out as well as they could, they sent him back out – expecting either his engine or his transmission to fail soon for lack of oil. It seemed like when he got up to speed, there was less smoke and, when he was still running into the third Stage, one might have begun to think that he might just make it to the finish. However, this all ended when he got into a three-way tangle on lap 84 and he crashed out of the race – the oil leak becoming an academic question.

Now, with just 50 laps left in the race everyone took advantage of this caution to make their final pit stop. The subsequent green turned into another yellow when Jordan Anderson lost control and crashed before he even got to the start line. Another shuffle under the ‘choose’ rule and another restart. Creed had the choice and he lined up on the top of the front row the preferred position here with Hill alongside on the bottom.

On the green, Hill powered ahead of Creed and took hold of the race lead with 38 laps remaining. Indeed, Creed had had a poor start and he fell back several positions initially. But he seemed to still have his superior speed and he quickly passed the intervening trucks and he had caught Hill in ten laps.

Now, given his earlier superiority, Creed was expected to soon make mincemeat of Hill and regain his lead. He was now less that a second – only two or three truck lengths – behind Hill. But surprisingly, Hill was maintaining his space and holding Creed off.

Creed tried every line he could think of but Hill matched him and even, as the gap grew smaller, he stayed ahead. Hill made a couple of loose wiggles but he held on. Creed got closer but then, with 11 laps to go, he brushed the wall and fell back to one second behind. Creed closed to half-a-second but he could get no closer and Hill hung on to take the checker with Creed right on his tail.

“I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was looking out front,” Hill conceded of keeping Creed behind. “I knew he was better than we were and I knew I was going to have to protect. We didn’t have the best truck tonight, by no means. We had to fight a lot of adversity in Stages 1 and 2. We weren’t good at all and (crew chief) Scott (Zipadelli) and the guys kept working on it and got better and better. The pit crew did a hell of a job on that last pit stop getting me in position I needed and I just had to go out there and get it and that’s what we did.”

Canadian driver Stewart Friesen has had a difficult season this year after leaving the working arrangement with the GMS and going it on his own with a new-to-him Toyota. His mediocre finishes saw him starting here in 17th place but he jumped up to second place after the fourth caution and he managed to stay in touch with the leaders, finishing in fourth place – his third finish in the top five this year. The other Canadian, Raphael Lessard, hit the wall early in the race and went down three laps; he finished in 20th place, two laps down.

This race was the second race in the first tree-race playoff round. This win guaranteed Hill would be able to progress on to the second three-race elimination round. Hill leads the current points standings with Creed, who has three wins so far this year, in second place and Moffitt who has yet to win a race in third. It seems certain that all three will move on to the next playoff round no matter what happens at Talladega next week.

• Click HERE for the results of the Truck Series race at Las Vegas
• The next NGROTS race will be run next Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

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