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Welcome to the Championship 4

Date: Oct. 29, 2017
Event: First Data 500 (Round 33 of 36)
Series: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Location: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (.526-mile oval)
Format: 500 laps, broken into three stages (130 laps/130 laps/240 laps)
Start/Finish: 14th/1st (Running, completed 505 of 505 laps)
Point Standing: 2nd with 4,100 points, 17 out of first (Qualified for Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with race win)

Note: Race ended in overtime, going five laps past its scheduled 500-lap distance

Race Winner:      Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota) in overtime

Stage 1 Winner:  Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 2 Winner:  Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

 

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-130):

● Kyle Busch started 14th, finished second.

● Busch started the race from the 14th position and quietly set to work trying to position the M&M’S Halloween Toyota toward the front of the field. The first caution was displayed on lap 37, giving the team an opportunity to help provide the car with more stability. Quick pit work for a wedge adjustment, four tires and fuel resulted in Busch moving up five positions in the running order, going from eighth before the caution to third for the restart.

● After a harried restart the M&M’S Halloween Camry driver settled into a comfortable pace in fourth position, noting that the adjustments seemed to make the car’s handling a little more tight.

● The team got another opportunity to work on the handling during the third caution on lap 86, making another chassis adjustment, changing four tires and adding fuel. Quick pit work resulted in Busch winning the race off pit road. Because a number of teams elected to stay out during the caution, Busch restarted in ninth place.

● During the next 37 laps Busch raced his way from ninth place to second, where he was running when Stage 1 concluded.

● Busch noted at the end of Stage 1 that the car continued to handle on the tight side all the way around the track and that he was lacking front grip. The team made a round of air pressure adjustments, changed four tires and added fuel. Another quick pit stop handed Busch the lead to start Stage 2. 

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 131-260):    

● Busch started first, finished second.

● The Las Vegas native started Stage 2 from the top spot. For several laps Busch and driver Brad Keselowski dueled for the lead. While the battle persisted Busch continued to quietly log laps. He finally started to distance himself at the lap-200 mark.

● As the stage wound down, Keselowski was able to reel in Busch. The two spent the final 10 laps of Stage 2 in a tight battle with Keselowski prevailing. Busch finished the stage in second place.

● During the caution Busch reported that while the car started out with decent balance, the handling went away the longer the run continued. He asked for some help with longevity. The team made chassis and air pressure adjustments, changed four tires and added fuel. The pit crew continued its streak of fast stops, once again delivering the lead to Busch for the start of Stage 3.

Stage 3 Recap (Laps 261-505):                                                                                                     

● Busch started first, finished first.

● After starting from the top spot to kick off Stage 3, the 2015 NASCAR Cup Series champion had to fend off a barrage of drivers after a restart on lap 324. He got pushed to the outside line and during the next five laps went from first to fourth place. Once the pace settled, Busch reported that the car was handling so tight that it wouldn’t turn.

● As the race continued, Busch reported that anytime he would get close to another car, it felt as though he lost the back end of the M&M’S Camry. The issue made it difficult to make passes for track position.

● Busch had just taken over second place when the caution flag was displayed on lap 456. The leaders came down pit road for fresh tires. A slight issue during the pit stop cost the team a couple of positions, placing Busch in fourth place for the ensuing restart.

● Busch bided his time among the leaders over the final 35 laps, weathering a pair of late-race restarts, including a final green-white-checkered restart three laps past the scheduled 500-lap race distance.

● He restarted second behind Denny Hamlin when the race went back to green that final time and squeezed past his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate on the final lap. 

Notes:

● The win was Busch’s 43rd career victory in 459 NASCAR Cup Series races, his fifth of the season and his second at Martinsville.

● The victory automatically qualifies him for the Championship 4, winner-take-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway that will decide the 2017 Cup Series championship.

● He took the checkered flag .141 of a second ahead of runner-up Martin Truex Jr.

● Busch led four times for a total of 184 laps.

Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Halloween Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:

Talk about the win here tonight.

“It’s just a great win for this whole M&M’S Halloween Toyota Camry. Awesome to get to victory lane here at Martinsville. You know, I wanted to win Charlotte, Martinsville and Homestead, and that’ll make us this year’s champions, so we’ve got one more. Just wanted to say our guys did an awesome job preparing this car. We weren’t the best all day, but we put ourselves in the right spots there at the end, and there was kind of chaos ensuing, and none of it was our fault. We just came out on the right end of the stick. Can’t say enough about NOS Energy Drinks, Cessna, DVX Sunglasses. My son Brexton’s at home – he’s not here with us this weekend – so want to say hey to him, we’ll see you later tonight buddy. Looking forward to going to Homestead.”

You’ll have another chance at a championship. How big is that?

“It’s huge. It’s our opportunity to succeed and, you know, God’s given us every opportunity to go do that. Joe and J.D. Gibbs, Coy Gibbs, everybody on this Joe Gibbs Racing team, they’re phenomenal. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys had a great racecar for me prepared for this weekend. We tested up here, we came here and we were really good yesterday, and we just came out on top today.” 

With this win, how do you approach the rest of the playoffs heading to Texas and Phoenix?

“We can go out there and race for wins and try to get more, of course, and just let everybody else have to worry, you know, and then not give them a chance to breathe and get their heads on their shoulders going into that week at Homestead.” 

Next Up: The next event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday, Nov. 5 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. The race starts at 2 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by NBCSN.

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