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NASCAR CUP at Texas: At last! Kyle Busch’s first win of the year

NASCAR Cup Series Race Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway
• Rains delays race to a fourth day; Kyle Busch finally wins a race in2020

Fort Worth, TX, Oct 28/20 (GRW): This race had two big stories. The first was the weather, which saw Sunday’s race interrupted and the completion postponed day-after-day until it was finally finished on Wednesday in the late afternoon into the evening. But it was completed and all of the scheduled 334 laps of the race were run.

The second story had to do with Kyle Busch. Up to now this year, he had failed to win a single race – and he had been eliminated from the playoff championship competition. Once he had no way of winning the championship he was focused on winning at least one race this year to keep going his string of winning at least one Cup race in every year in which had competed the entire season. This win here at Texas gave him his first win in 2020 and it kept going his run of 16 years of winning at least one Cup race each season since he had started running full-time in the Cup Series. It was his 57th career Cup win.

“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 race began on Sunday under cold and misty conditions which made the track damp. It was not quite an actual rain but it caused big problems – perhaps it screwed up the vaunted traction compound which had been applied to the upper groove here. Coming back to green on lap 28 after the second caution, Denny Hamlin who had taken the restart in third place, seemed to suddenly lose grip and he slid up towards the wall before he caught it and recovered – but he had lost many positions.

On the next lap, Harvick who had been leading, lost control and his car hit the outside wall, doing damage.

It seemed obvious that, even though there was little sign of actual rain the weather conditions were making the track damp and slippery. At the end of lap 52 of the 334-lap race they red-flagged the race due to the damp surface. The weather was misty even if there was few actual rain drops falling – but this was enough to stop the racing.

NASCAR had high hopes of completing the race on the following Monday morning but the same conditions persisted and they put the resumption of racing off to Tuesday afternoon. Same story. The misty, damp conditions persisted and they never were able to get going. Now the race was put off to the late afternoon on Wednesday based on a weather forecast which predicted that this bad weather would break that day. In the end, the race got going again just after 5:00 pm EDT on Wednesday.

Now the race was underway again, a number of drivers – Clint Bower, Martin Truex, Alex Bowman and Harvick took turns at leading the race. The Stage lengths were long enough that fuel strategies at the end of each Stage became important.

Kyle Busch pitted out of the lead on lap 202 just before the end of the second Stage. Like everyone else, he was going to have to make at least one more pit stop for fuel during the final 124-lap Stage. This made decisions about the timing of this fuel stop and fuel saving by the drivers crucial during this final Stage.

Having pitted before the end of the second Stage and then not pitting at the Stage end, he came out of this pit cycle in the lead but with less fuel that those who had pitted during the end-of-Stage pit stops.

This set up a fight for the win between Busch and his teammate Truex. Busch initiated the final round of green-flag pit stops when he pitted for fuel on lap 268. Over the next few laps all the other contenders came in for fuel as well. Given that Busch had pitted first the onus was on him to do the best job of saving fuel while holding off Truex – and now Christopher Bell who was closing on Truex and who seemed to be the fastest in these closing laps.

Bowyer had been running is second behind Busch but, for sure, he was going to need to pit again several laps before the finish. When he pitted with 23 laps remaining, Truex was just one second behind Busch with Bell right on his tail.

Over those final laps, Busch balanced his need to stay ahead of Truex with his need to conserve fuel and he made it. He crossed the finish line just a half-second ahead of Truex and his car sputtered – out of gas – as he came around to take the honours after the cool-down lap. Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman rounded out the top five finishers. Hamlin finished in ninth place and Harvick in 16th.
There is just one race left in this ‘Round of 8' and after Martinsville, the bottom four of the current set of eight playoff drivers will be eliminated, leaving the top four to advance to the finale at Phoenix.

Despite their disappointing results here at Texas, Harvick and Hamlin are still one-two just below Joey Logano, who is guaranteed a spot in the championship four playoff at Phoenix. Brad Keselowski is im fourth place just below Hamlin. Of the four currently below the cut line, Chase Elliott is just eight points below Keselowski so a good result for Elliott or a bad results for Keselowski could change which of them advances to Phoenix.

• Click HERE for the results of the four-day Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway

• Click HERE for the driver points standings after Texas

• The next race, the penultimate race of the season, will be held at Martinsville next Sunday, November 1st.

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