How one caution turned the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs upside down

One caution helped Kurt Busch turn the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on its head and breathe new life into his quest for a second series championship.

Busch’s only series title came in 2004, the first year NASCAR used a 10-race playoff which it then called the Chase to determine its series champion.

Entering Sunday night’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch was ranked lowest among the 12 remaining playoff contenders. In other words, he was probably the least likely to be considered a lock for the Round of 8.

Read Also:

All that changed on Lap 236 of 268, when NASCAR displayed a caution for debris on the backstretch after Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet suffered a flat tire and dropped pieces on the track.

At the time, just about every playoff driver was caught a lap down by the caution, having recently completed their respective stops. Everyone in the playoffs except Kurt Busch, who had remained on the track and not yet pit.

The value of track position 

Suddenly, Busch found himself in a prime position late in the race with excellent track position and his fellow playoff competitors far behind him.

When the race returned to green on Lap 243, Busch grabbed the lead from Matt DiBenedetto and then never let go despite two more restarts, including the final one heading into overtime.

The result was Busch’s first win of the 2020 season, his first ever at his hometown track of Las Vegas and he became the first driver locked into the Round of 8.

“I’ll be honest with you, we needed everything to go perfect in this round to advance to the Round of 8t. You never want to count yourself out as a championship contender, but we knew we needed to work a little harder to keep pace with (Denny Hamlin), to keep pace with (Kevin Harvick),” Busch said.

“You never know when your moment is going to come and the yellow came out at a perfect opportunity for us. I still think it’s important to grab points at Talladega and the Roval. We still need to go out there and put points in our pocket.”

A Final Four upset?

The victory at Las Vegas also provides Busch and his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team that could pull another surprise in the Round of 8 and advance to the Championship 4.

Two of the three races in the semifinal round are at Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway, both intermediate 1.5-mile tracks like Las Vegas.

Also, Busch’s most recent win prior to Sunday came at Kentucky Speedway last season, another 1.5-mile track.

Should Busch be able to replicate his speed and excellent track position at either Texas or Kansas, Busch could well shake up the playoffs one more time.

“We last won together at Kentucky on a mile-and-a-half. So, if you fast forward to Kansas and Texas, it’s a mile-and-a-half. So, everything is just pointing in our direction right now,” Busch said.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but we will enjoy this. We thought we were a top eight team if things went perfectly. All in all, this is a huge breath of fresh air. It’s wind in our sails.”

shares
comments

Related video

DiBenedetto second at Las Vegas as he faces an uncertain future

Previous article

DiBenedetto second at Las Vegas as he faces an uncertain future

Next article

Chad Knaus stepping off pit box and into leadership role

Chad Knaus stepping off pit box and into leadership role
Load comments

About this article

Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kurt Busch
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing
Author Jim Utter
From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview Prime

From the archive: Dale Earnhardt’s final Autosport interview

The death of Dale Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500 shocked NASCAR to the core. At the Daytona 24 Hours, two weeks before his fatal accident, ‘The Intimidator’ shared his expectations of challenging for an eighth Cup title with JONATHAN INGRAM, in an article first published in the 15 February 2001 issue of Autosport magazine. Little did we know then what tragedy would unfold…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death Prime

The lasting NASCAR legacy after Dale Earnhardt’s death

On February 18, 2001, seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Dale Earnhardt – the fearless ‘Intimidator’ – was in his element at Daytona International Speedway. While his own DEI team’s cars ran 1-2 towards the finish line, his famed #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Monte Carlo was playing rear gunner to block any late runs from the chasing pack. As the cars tore through Turns 3 and 4 on that fateful final lap, Earnhardt maintained the strongarm tactics that encapsulated his persona… but his actions in those moments sadly proved to be his last.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 18, 2021
Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR Prime

Inspired by Pitbull, the “revolution” sweeping through NASCAR

The NASCAR Cup Series is changing. Whether it be the gradual morphing out the seasoned drivers of yesterday as the next generation step up, a radical calendar shake-up featuring more road courses than ever before and the prospect of an all-new car on the horizon, stock car racing’s highest level is nearing the end of a huge facelift.

NASCAR Cup
Feb 16, 2021
The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021 Prime

The NASCAR storylines to watch out for in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season…

NASCAR Cup
Feb 13, 2021
Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption Prime

Why Kyle Larson can't blow his big shot at redemption

From a disgraced NASCAR exile, Kyle Larson has been given a chance of redemption by the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports squad. Effectively replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is no easy billing, but Larson has every intention of repaying the team's faith...

NASCAR Cup
Feb 11, 2021
Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon Prime

Why Roger Penske is an American motorsport icon

In this exclusive one-on-one interview, Roger Penske reveals the inner drive that has made him not only a hugely successful team owner and businessman but also the owner of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar. He spoke to David Malsher-Lopez.

IndyCar
Dec 28, 2020
Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started Prime

Why NASCAR's latest second-generation champion is just getting started

Chase Elliott's late charge to the 2020 NASCAR Cup title defied predictions that it would be a Kevin Harvick versus Denny Hamlin showdown. While the two veterans are showing no signs of slowing down, Elliott's triumph was a window into NASCAR's future…

NASCAR Cup
Nov 18, 2020
Why Kyle Larson deserves his second chance in a cancel culture Prime

Why Kyle Larson deserves his second chance in a cancel culture

“You can’t hear me? Hey n*****” Those fateful words uttered by Kyle Larson, spoken into his esports headset on April 12, were directed at his sim racing spotter – but instead they quickly became amplified around the world via social media, including his own Twitch stream.

NASCAR Cup
Oct 29, 2020