NASCAR Barometer: Busch Gets First Ganassi Win

NASCAR Barometer: Busch Gets First Ganassi Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Kurt Busch's strategic decision to get four fresh tires for the Quaker State 400's overtime restart gave him the advantage he needed to gran his first win of the season, first for Chip Ganassi Racing and first for Chevrolet at Kentucky Speedway. The night race brought NASCAR's new rules package to life as battles throughout the field combined with hectic restarts to produce one of the most entertaining races of the season with multiple contenders for victory through the final laps.

With the win, Busch takes away another spot in the playoffs for nonwinning drivers with many on the outside looking in. The battle around the final playoff position continues to remain heated, with Erik Jones now taking the position on the heels of his third-place finish, at the expense of Ryan Newman who is just two points adrift. This week's race at New Hampshire is one of just seven races remaining for drivers to win their way into the championship battle or amass as many points as possible to claim a spot. Kevin Harvick is the defending winner.

UPGRADE

Kurt Busch – The first stage Saturday night in Kentucky was initially a Stewart-Haas Racing special, but late cautions enabled Busch to work his way to the front and win the segment. The stage was a small consolation for missing out on the July Daytona win. It didn't matter after the final stage because his team set him up with four fresh tires for an overtime battle that he

Kurt Busch's strategic decision to get four fresh tires for the Quaker State 400's overtime restart gave him the advantage he needed to gran his first win of the season, first for Chip Ganassi Racing and first for Chevrolet at Kentucky Speedway. The night race brought NASCAR's new rules package to life as battles throughout the field combined with hectic restarts to produce one of the most entertaining races of the season with multiple contenders for victory through the final laps.

With the win, Busch takes away another spot in the playoffs for nonwinning drivers with many on the outside looking in. The battle around the final playoff position continues to remain heated, with Erik Jones now taking the position on the heels of his third-place finish, at the expense of Ryan Newman who is just two points adrift. This week's race at New Hampshire is one of just seven races remaining for drivers to win their way into the championship battle or amass as many points as possible to claim a spot. Kevin Harvick is the defending winner.

UPGRADE

Kurt Busch – The first stage Saturday night in Kentucky was initially a Stewart-Haas Racing special, but late cautions enabled Busch to work his way to the front and win the segment. The stage was a small consolation for missing out on the July Daytona win. It didn't matter after the final stage because his team set him up with four fresh tires for an overtime battle that he came out on top of for his first win of the season and first for Chip Ganassi Racing. The victory secures his playoff hopes and was Chevrolet's first at Kentucky. Now preparation for the playoffs begins. Busch has three New Hampshire wins and started from pole last year, leading 94 laps on his way to an eighth-place finish.

Joey Logano – Logano made his presence felt at the front throughout the 400 miles raced Saturday night at Kentucky and was perhaps at his strongest in the closing laps. The Penske Racing Fords were all quick throughout the weekend, but Logano was the one who made the most of his equipment and adjustments. An exciting battle between him and Kyle Busch set up a run to the finish before a late caution set up a head-to-head restart battle for the win. Neither Logano nor Kyle Busch could hold off the Kurt's new tires, which gave him the advantage he needed to take the win, however. Logano has two New Hampshire wins from 20 career starts and has back-to-back top-10 finishes in the last two races there.

Kyle Busch – Busch worked his way to the front in the second stage and built a lead over teammate Erik Jones as he cruised to the stage victory. He then made a fuel-only stop under the stage break to maximize track position for the start of the final stage. In the closing laps, it looked like Logano was going to drive away under a caution to set up an overtime battle. With neither Busch nor Logano pitting for tires, it gave Kurt the opportunity to pounce. The brothers then put on a raging final two-lap sprint to the finish that Kurt ultimately won. It's the second time Busch has finished second in the last four races, and he will be more determined than usual to win after that.

Erik Jones – Through good pit strategy and smart driving, Erik Jones put himself in contention to win Saturday night's Quaker State 400. Kentucky has been a good track for him in the past, and Saturday was no different as he raced among the top 10 throughout the distance. The late overtime restart put him in the second row with a shot at the win if he could overtake those ahead of him. The melee that ensued among the top four drivers gave him that opportunity, but he didn't have the grip needed to challenge the Busch brothers and instead settled for third place. That was his third top-10 finish in the last four races and gives him valuable points to keep him inside the playoff positions with regular-season races running out.

DOWNGRADE

William Byron – Byron had done a great job of staying with the leaders throughout most of the race distance Saturday night in Kentucky. He then found himself on the front row for a restart following Jimmie Johnson's spin but then accelerated before the leader and earned a penalty for the infraction. Byron, like the rest of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, has been growing more competitive in recent seasons but restarts seem to be Byron's biggest obstacle to even greater success. Saturday's mistake left him with an 18th-place finish, which doesn't help as he seeks to consolidate a playoff position on points. Byron has just one New Hampshire start in his Cup career, which came last season when he started 11th and finished 14th.

Daniel Suarez – Suarez was one of the faster cars in practice, qualified on pole and then jumped to the lead in the early laps. After losing track position under caution, he struggled in the dirty air, though. Then, in the second stage, he picked up a speeding penalty on pit road under green, which put him even farther behind where his car arguably should have been. Mistakes like that won't help his efforts to gain solid footing inside the top 16 in standings even though he ended with a top-10. He has another chance this week at a venue at which he hasn't been too bad. Suarez has two top-10 finishes from three New Hampshire starts but finished 22nd last season despite starting in the top 10.

Austin Dillon – Dillon leveraged his strong Richard Childress Racing engine to run in the top 10 when Saturday night's race got underway. He slipped back as handling and traffic became bigger factors through the middle of the race but lost fourth gear on the return to racing following the second stage. It was another top-10 start that left him without conversion. The 35th-place classification was his second in a row outside of the top 30. With just one top-10 finish at New Hampshire from his nine-race career at the track, he may not be the driver to which fantasy owners should flock this week. His average finish at the track is 15.4 and he finished 21st there last season.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson was running near the front of the field when he lost grip and slid into the wall with less than 90 laps remaining. The damage done to the car was heavy and left him with a difficult machine to nurse to the finish. His 30th-place finish dented his playoff position, too. Prospects had been getting brighter for the No. 48 team with increased competitiveness and a string of top finishes, but bad luck bit in Kentucky. The good news for this team is that New Hampshire has traditionally been a good track for Johnson. In 33 career starts he's won there three times and has an average finish of 10.6. He finished 10th there last season, which was one of his three top-10s in the last four visits.

Martin Truex Jr. – After winning the prior two races at Kentucky Speedway, Truex was unable to make himself a factor Saturday night. The defending winner was among the leaders throughout most of the distance but never made a significant impact at the front of the field like his teammates were able to. A speeding penalty on his final stop while exiting pit road gave him little time to recover. While that mistake isn't a complete disaster to his championship, it did rob him of some momentum. New Hampshire is a place where Truex could use some momentum, too. He has six top-five finishes from 25 starts, and three of those came in the last three races. His average finish there is 12.6 and improving.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick had a dismal outing Saturday in Kentucky. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver could not keep his car among the leaders despite starting fifth. Close racing with teammate Clint Bowyer also stunted Harvick's ability to maintain momentum after returning from a pit stop causing him to lose ground in cycling back to the lead. It was not a typical race from Harvick who continues experiencing more negatives than positives in what has been a frustrating season. Races remaining to get a win are running out, but he does maintain a points advantage over the nonwinners. One bright spot for Harvick in New Hampshire is that his teammates were competitive last week. Focus on solving the No. 4 team's problems and using the boost from the rest of the garage could help as he goes for his fourth win at that track.

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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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