HAMPTON, Ga. — Kyle Busch needed a top-10 finish Sunday night in the AdvoCare 500 to clinch a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
He got that – and a whole lot more – with a victory.
Busch beat Joey Logano off pit road during the final round of pit stops with 36 laps remaining at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Once he took the lead, he stayed there.
Busch had to fend off challenges during three different restarts late in the race, including an amazing run by older brother Kurt Busch and another one by Martin Truex Jr. Each time, he used his track position in the bottom groove to pull away.
“Their work tonight definitely helped tonight,” Busch said of his Joe Gibbs Racing team.
Busch became one of four drivers who locked up a spot in the Chase, which starts Sept. 15 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Carl Edwards (who finished 18th) and Kevin Harvick (eighth) also earned their spots in the playoffs as top 10 drivers. Kasey Kahne clinched as a wild card.
Logano not only dropped from first to third during the final pit stop, he fell back two more spots during one of the restarts. He rallied in the final 10 laps to finish second, but he was 50 yards behind the winner.
Truex, who was driving with a broken wrist suffered a week ago during a race at tBristol Motor Speedway, wound up third. He told his team on the radio his cast melted during the 325-lap race.
The rest of the top 10 included: Ryan Newman in fifth, Jeff Gordon in sixth, Juan Pablo Montoya in seventh, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in eighth, Harvick in ninth and Brian Vickers finished 10th.
With one race remaining at Richmond before the Chase starts, there are 10 drivers who have a mathematical chance to earn one of six remaining spots.
Jimmie Johnson’s recent swoon continued when he was involved in a chain reaction crash with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kahne.
NASCAR brought out the caution after 25 laps so teams could check their tire wear. On the restart, Gordon spun his tires at the front of the pack, and everyone behind him ran into each other like an accordion.
Earnhardt hit Gordon, Johnson hit Earnhardt and Kahne hit Johnson. Kahne’s car had the most damage with a broken radiator and oil cooler, but Johnson’s car sustained a lot of damage to the front end. He was a lap down just 150 miles into the race.
Johnson also spun coming onto pit road after colliding with Jeff Burton with 38 laps remaining.
Counting Atlanta, Johnson now has finished 40th, 36th and 28th in his last three races to lose 47 of the 75-point lead he had three races ago in the Sprint Cup Series standings.
Clint Bowyer could have cut even more from Johnson’s lead – or take the lead – but his opportunity ended with a blown engine on the 193rd lap. Bowyer led 48 laps and was a straightaway ahead of Carl Edwards when smoke poured from under the hood.
Since Bowyer already had clinched his spot in the Chase, his team used an experimental engine as it prepared for the playoffs. The engine clearly was fast, but it wasn’t durable.
“We’re pushing hard for the Chase,” he said. “It was ours to lose. Unfortunately, we did lose it.”
Defending series champion Brad Keselowski needed a good finish to stay in contention to qualify for the playoffs. Just when it appeared he was in position to do that by leading 31 laps, his engine started skipping 81 laps from the finish line. A 35th-place finish means he will have to win and get help from other drivers next Saturday night at Richmond to make the final cut for the Chase.