NASCAR Barometer: Busch Wins 42nd Race

NASCAR Barometer: Busch Wins 42nd Race

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kyle Busch worked on his car all afternoon to improve enough to overtake Chase Elliott in the final laps at Dover to score his 42nd-career NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series win. He capped off the first round of the 2017 playoffs with two victories and now takes his bonus points into the round of 12 where he will look to continue his championship co-favorite status alongside Martin Truex Jr.'s No. 78 machine.

Sunday's race set the final 12 drivers who remain alive in the championship hunt, and some surprises failed to make it through. Kurt Busch was brushed aside after winning the Daytona 500 and piecing together a number of top results in the lead up to the round of 16. Joining him on the sidelines of the championship battle were Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne. Those drivers now will focus on being the best of the rest in the final races as the championship hunt moves on without them.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch took his 42nd career win Sunday in Dover after reeling in Chase Elliott and making the pass for the lead just before the final lap. It was Busch's second playoff victory in the first three races, which further cements his status as co-favorite alongside Truex to battle for the championship in Miami. The afternoon was a complete team performance, as the crew made the right changes to improve the struggling car throughout the race to deliver Busch one of the fastest cars in

Kyle Busch worked on his car all afternoon to improve enough to overtake Chase Elliott in the final laps at Dover to score his 42nd-career NASCAR Monster Energy Cup series win. He capped off the first round of the 2017 playoffs with two victories and now takes his bonus points into the round of 12 where he will look to continue his championship co-favorite status alongside Martin Truex Jr.'s No. 78 machine.

Sunday's race set the final 12 drivers who remain alive in the championship hunt, and some surprises failed to make it through. Kurt Busch was brushed aside after winning the Daytona 500 and piecing together a number of top results in the lead up to the round of 16. Joining him on the sidelines of the championship battle were Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne. Those drivers now will focus on being the best of the rest in the final races as the championship hunt moves on without them.

UPGRADE

Kyle Busch – Busch took his 42nd career win Sunday in Dover after reeling in Chase Elliott and making the pass for the lead just before the final lap. It was Busch's second playoff victory in the first three races, which further cements his status as co-favorite alongside Truex to battle for the championship in Miami. The afternoon was a complete team performance, as the crew made the right changes to improve the struggling car throughout the race to deliver Busch one of the fastest cars in the field in the final laps. He earned five playoff points for the triumph, and will now look to land his first Charlotte victory after finishing second there in May.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex continued his superb start to the playoffs by taking the pole in qualifying for Sunday's race then darted off to the lead in the early laps. He led much of the middle portion of Sunday's 400 miles but faded slightly after the second segment and finished the race fourth. There aren't many chinks in the armor of this organization at the moment, and things could just continue to get better for them, too. He has been nothing short of excellent at Charlotte. He dominated the 2016 600-mile race and then led 233 laps there earlier this season before finishing third. Repeating that type of form this week could put him through to the final eight in short order.

Kyle Larson – Larson chased down and passed Truex for the lead in the first 50 laps of Sunday's race. He couldn't make the move stick to win the stage, but he did mount a charge from the start of the second segment. He won that portion, which gave him a valuable bonus point for the following playoff rounds. After that, he went on to finish fifth and now turns his focus on performing well in the next round of championship eliminations. This round could present more challenges for him, though. Larson has two top-10s from eight career starts at Charlotte. His other championship rivals have better results there, and the wild-card race of Talladega Superspeedway is also in the mix. Larson is brimming with confidence, though.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski made sure not to leave Dover empty handed by willing his way to the front to win the first stage of Sunday's race. Bonus points were what he was aiming for if a win wasn't in the cards, and he accomplished that objective early. As the race progressed, he failed to keep pace with the top runners, but his performance was still enough to warrant a top-10 finish. The playoffs continue for him, however, and the team knows they must find speed in order to continue the battle. Keselowski won the fall Charlotte race in 2013 and had a string of four consecutive top-10 finishes at the track until crashing out in the 600-mile race earlier this season, which they must improve upon.

Chase Elliott – It had largely been a quiet first round of the playoffs for Elliott until last week's race in Dover. The young driver raced consistently in the top five throughout the afternoon and made his move to the front early in the final segment after his team moved him ahead of Truex with a quick pit stop. He came agonizingly close to scoring his first win but couldn't hold off the charging Kyle Busch in the final two miles. His disappointment was palpable, but the playoffs roll on. Elliott has just one top-10 finish at Charlotte from four prior visits. Unfortunately, he crashed out of the last two races there, and that's an unacceptable outcome for him this week.

DOWNGRADE

Kevin Harvick – A tire vibration forced Harvick to pit early near the end of the second stage on Sunday. The unscheduled stop put him laps behind the leaders after running sixth, and gave him a hole to climb out of in the final stage. He never recovered from that problem, and only managed to claw up to the 17th position when the checkered flag came out. Things need to improve for this team in the next round of the playoffs, or elimination will loom over their heads. Harvick has three Charlotte wins. He also started from pole in the last two races at the track, and has only finished outside of the top 10 once in his last nine tries at the circuit.

Ryan Newman – Newman spent much of Sunday working to come within enough positions of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to stay alive in the playoffs. He missed stage points in the first two segments of Sunday's race, which ultimately made the difference between the pair, and he missed advancing in the playoffs by just two points. It was a difficult three-race span for the team, and their championship fight is done as a result. Seven races still remain this season, though. Newman has finished inside the top 10 in the last three Charlotte races and hasn't finished worse than 15th at the circuit in the last nine visits, and the final races of the season could serve to build momentum into the winter.

Kasey Kahne – Kahne joined the list of drivers dumped out of the playoffs with a lackluster Dover performance. He did well to make the championship fight but largely underperformed through his time with Hendrick Motorsports. He will replace Michael McDowell at Leavine Family Racing next season. That seems like a large step in the wrong direction for one of the bigger names in the sport, but after being unable to seize the opportunity at Hendrick, there are probably few options down the grid that would be willing to give him yet another shot. This week could be his final opportunity to exit Hendrick on a high note. He has four career Charlotte wins, but crashed out of the visit there earlier this season.

Kurt Busch – Not much went well for Busch once the playoffs commenced, and that trend continued on Sunday. The team was eliminated from championship contention despite entering the knockout stage with a strong run of top results that would have easily seen them through to the round of 12. Instead that momentum petered out, and Busch was left wondering what went wrong. The season wasn't a complete loss for him, though. He triumphed in the biggest race on the calendar and still has seven races remaining to add another win to his tally. He has one Charlotte win from 2010, and enters this week's race with a streak of five consecutive top-10s alive and well at the circuit.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – An early gamble on pit strategy of staying out as long as possible, paid off early for Stenhouse when a red flag left him in third position with the rest of the leaders and strong track position. That move earned him valuable points in his effort to stay alive in the playoffs, and it turned out that those points were the difference, as he topped Ryan Newman by just two points to advance into the round of 12. It will be even harder for this team to advance from this round, but Talladega Superspeedway is the second race in the trio where he scored one of his two 2017 wins earlier this season. Stenhouse has two 15th-place finishes in the last three trips to Charlotte.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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