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Kyle Busch Continues Comeback With Victory as new NASCAR Racing Package Makes Debut
A big statement was made Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway when Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing recorded a 1-3-4-5 finish for the team.
Busch, who missed 11 races earlier this season after breaking his right leg and left foot during a NASCAR XFINITY Series race in February at Daytona International Speedway, earned his second Sprint Cup Series win in his past three starts to give a big boost to his hopes of making the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The victory made him the fifth multi-race winner this season, but he’s still not Chase eligible. Busch is 87 points out of 30th in the standings. Busch needs to average a 17th-place finish in the remaining eight races to reach the projected total to make the top 30 and a spot in the Chase. He cut a massive 41 points from his deficit Saturday, aided by a 37th-place finish by the current driver in 30th, Cole Whitt.
"That right there is what we have to do," Busch declared after his 31st career Cup Series race win. "Just to score as many points as we possibly can and score those wins, that's what's going to get us where we need to be. We led the most laps, and we won the race, so that's all you can score.
"We'll just continue to push on and drive and try to strive through our deficit and get ourselves in position to be in the top 30."
NASCAR also declared itself a winner, as the low-downforce package it controversially mandated for the Kentucky contest improved the quality of the racing. Although Busch led 163 of the 267 laps and won by 1.594 seconds, there were a race record 22 green-flag passes for the lead.
There were a total of 2,665 green-flag passes during the race, more than double the past year's total of 1,147. The 11 cautions for 45 laps were another record established during the evening.
Busch believes it's an ongoing challenge for NASCAR to find the right balance between exciting racing and safety.
"It's hugely difficult," he said. "You can have it perfectly right and put on a good race and a great finish one time at a particular racetrack and go back there with the exact same rules package and somebody hits on it and they check out and it's boring. There's absolutely no rhyme or reason as to being able to make it perfect every single time. I think a lot of fans out there respect the sport for what it was and what it has become, and the finishes that we do have.
"There's some fans out there that want to see us eight-wide across the start-finish line every single week for the win," Busch added. "That's just not practical and that's not going to happen. Even if that situation did arise, you're going to get it like you did last week at Daytona. We couldn't be eight-wide because the track isn't wide enough -- you have to stay above the yellow line. It was three-wide and it was eight rows deep and it was a mess. That's just not safe, obviously for the fans or the competitors.
"There's a way to put on good racing and for those that respect racing for what it is, they'll see good racing in their own mind."
Busch's teammate Denny Hamlin, who finished third in front of Edwards, was another driver who made the most of the new aero package.
"You're gonna hear both sides of the story, and the guys who ran up front are obviously going to like it," Hamlin said. "But I came from two laps down and passed a ton of cars throughout the day, and there was a pass for the lead within 15 laps to go. You can't complain a lot about that, especially on a track where it's been hard to pass in the past."
With half of the 10-race Chase comprised of 1.5-mile intermediate speedways similar to Kentucky, the Gibbs team's dominant performance Saturday should send a warning to the rest of the Sprint Cup field.
Busch returned to the No. 18 car in late May, but it took him a few weeks to settle back into winning form. He has won now on the Sonoma road course and the bumpy Kentucky oval.
Hamlin believes the best is yet to come for JGR.
"We've only had Kyle for a few weeks now, and we're starting to build that chemistry," he said. "It continues to push you to go faster and do your job better. That's how you get to an elite level.
"This is just one race, but obviously it's a big night for Joe Gibbs Racing and a great night for Kyle."
Assuming Busch can make up the points he needs to reach 30th place in the standings, he is suddenly looking like a strong championship contender.
"I knew this was definitely another opportunity for us to take a chance to win a race," Busch said. "I did not want to settle for second for sure. I knew I needed to continue to work and focus forward on what was ahead of me and do what I needed to do to get ahead of that car in front of me and win.
"I haven't thought about the Chase a whole lot," he added. "We've got to finish working our way to that top 30, and hopefully it's not just a car owner's championship that we're racing for -- it's a driver's championship."