Kyle Busch advances to next playoff round with win at New Hampshire

Kyle Larson takes second; Martin Truex Jr. leads playoff points through two races

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Busch leads Kyle Larson during the ISM Connect 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Busch won the race and Larson finished second. (Brian Fluharty / USA TODAY Sports)

LOUDON, N.H. — Kyle Busch dominated the second half of the ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the second race of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, on Sunday en route to his third win of the season.

“It’s just a testament to this team and everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing,” Busch said. “I mean, it’s fun to drive these Toyota Camrys with how fast they are, and, you know, it’s a great opportunity for us to put them in Victory Lane when we can.”


Kyle Larson finished second, Matt Kenseth was third, Brad Keselowski fourth, and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five.

“I felt like on really long runs, I was fairly equal to those guys in front of me,” Larson said. “But on the short run, there, I could get pointed to the exit, but I couldn’t get the throttle down. I’d get loose. So, (Busch) just was really good. I think the No. 78 (Truex) was also really good, but he had his trouble. The No. 20 (Kenseth) was also good. We were next best. So, we finished second, again, with our Target Chevy. That’s a lot of second-place finishes this year, but I’m fine with second. Top-fives will get us to Homestead, so hats off to everybody on our Target team. The pit crew was great all day. I think we gained spots every time. Normally, I’m struggling on short tracks, but this year we were pretty good.”

Truex took only two tires during a caution for Kasey Kahne with 37 laps remaining to restart the race in the lead, but when the race restarted, Busch returned to the lead. Truex had raced back inside the top-10 with about 70 laps remaining after being involved in a crash that began with a spin by Kevin Harvick on the last lap of the second 75-lap stage and at the halfway point of the race. After the multi-car wreck that resulted in a red flag for extensive track clean-up, Harvick and Stewart-Haas teammate and fellow-playoff driver Kurt Busch retired from the race.

“I know as I got sideways, there, I tried to get thing weighed down and pointed in the right direction, and it snapped back the other way,” Harvick said. “I tried to lock it down, and it was too far up across the race track. I knew I was probably worse off at that particular point, so once it turned back right, and I was in trouble, I should have just tried to keep it left, but I couldn’t really tell where I was with all the smoke and everything that was happening, but just got hit from behind and spun out.”

According to Harvick, he spun after contact from Austin Dillon.

Truex dominated the first half of the 300-lap race and claimed his 19th stage win of the season with his win of the first 75-lap stage. But pole sitter Kyle Busch was the leader at the halfway point of the race for the second-stage win.

Kyle Busch led the first 39 laps before losing the top spot to Truex on lap 40. Truex led the remainder of the opening stage and was up front throughout the second stage before the stage-ending wreck.

Truex was back to sixth at the end of stage two after leading 109 of the first 150 laps, but he restarted the race in the back of the top-20 after spending extra time on pit road for repairs. Other drivers involved included Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Earnhardt Jr. was able to continue, and he continued to struggle.

Kyle Busch led a race-high 187 laps. He and Truex combined to lead all but one lap that Larson was credited with leading during the first caution of the race between the first and second stages.

“It was just a great day for our team and for the 18 team,” Busch said. “We were able to execute all day long, and we did everything right. We did everything we were supposed to do, and that’s where you end up when we’re able to do those things, and it was a great race up front too with the 78 (Truex), there. The 20 (Joey Logano) was there for a little. I think he was a little better on that long run that one time, but overall, we had some really good short run speed there at the end. We were able to get out front, there, and kind of set the field because — set the pace — and that was what we needed to do today.”

Kyle Busch took a moment following his win to remember Ted Christopher, a longtime New England modified series driver who died in a plane crash on Sept. 16 while heading to a race at Long Island’s Riverhead Raceway in New York.

“We always want to say that we’re remembering those that we’ve lost before us and Ted Christopher, who passed this week. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with his family and, of course, certainly want to say thanks to the fans and what they all mean to this New England area and being able to come out and support this track.”

NOTES: Five active drivers — Ryan Newman, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth — each have three wins at New Hampshire. … Chase Elliott was without regular crew chief Alan Gustafson for the NHMS race. Gustafson was serving a suspension because of a tape that was illegally put on the spoiler of the No. 24 car in the race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill, on Sept. 14. Kenny Francis was the fill-in crew chief for New Hampshire. … Johnson and Elliott were in backup cars for Sunday’s race after they crashed in separate incidents in first practice. Despite being in backup cars, they were allowed to start the race where they qualified since they qualified their backup cars. … Ty Dillon, Landon Cassill and Chris Buescher had to drop to the back for the start of the race. Dillon went to a backup car Saturday after a practice crash. Cassill and Buescher had the transmissions changed in their cars. … Sunday’s race was the first for Darian Grubb as Kasey Kahne’s crew chief. He replaces Keith Rodden atop the No. 5 pit box and will hold the position through the remainder of the season.