SPARTA, Ky. (AP) — Though Kyle Busch remains outside NASCAR’s championship playoff looking in, his prospects continue getting stronger.
There was no doubting the strength of his No. 18 Toyota Camry on Saturday night, especially in the clutch.
Busch outdueled Joey Logano late to win the Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway, moving a little closer to making the 10-race championship playoff.
Busch dominated the 400-mile race, leading 163 of 267 laps after starting ninth for his second victory here in five starts. But he had to outlast Logano during one late segment in which they traded leads for several laps.
Busch finally got the upper hand on Logano’s No. 22 Ford on lap 248 and he went on to his second victory in three races after missing the first 11 events with leg and foot injuries sustained in February at Daytona.
“He got away from me and I was nervous (that) I wasn’t going to be able to get back to him,” Busch said, “but I knew to just try something different to go get him.
“Man, that really worked for us.”
Busch also gained two spots to stand 35th in points, five below the position needed to qualify for the Chase.
“That right there is what we have to do,” he added. “Just to score as many points as we possibly can and score those wins.”
Busch’s teammates Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth followed Logano as Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas dominated the top five.
Busch, who won last month’s road race in Sonoma, California, in his fifth start back, won the inaugural 2011 race at Kentucky from the pole.
Defending race champion Brad Keselowski, whose No. 2 Ford was the strongest car at many points in the race, led 62 laps after starting second. But he struggled late to overcome pit road issues and finished sixth.
A scary incident occurred on lap 125 when Keselowski hit his right front tire carrier as he tried to exit his stall. The defending race winner was cleared to go but couldn’t see the crew member, who slipped while trying to move the heavy tire and was tapped as he furiously moved out of the way.
“There are certainly some things I could’ve done better and we didn’t have the best day on pit road,” Keselowski said.
Keselowski was part of a furious charge featuring several drivers, an exciting outcome that NASCAR hoped for as it rolled out a new rules package for the bumpy 1.5-mile oval. Specifications that reduced downforce with hopes of increasing passing worked to some extent, producing 13 lead changes among eight drivers and a track-record 22 green-flag passes for the lead.
Those changes also contributed to a track-record 11 cautions for 49 laps as cars battled handling issues.
Drivers seemed happy with the results.
“I can’t say enough positive things about this direction that NASCAR is going with less downforce,” Edwards said. “I felt like a race car driver tonight.”
Besides racing with a rear spoiler reduced from 6 to 3.5 inches, cars also had front splitters expanded by 25 inches with an overhang reduced by 1.75 inches. Drivers had hoped the changes would put them more in control of the car, even if it meant speeds reduced by 10 mph.
No matter the package, Busch thrived. His Toyota had the speed and handling to hold off several challengers including Edwards, who managed to keep him in sight during one long stretch.
It eventually became a battle between Busch and Logano before Busch finally had something to show for his dominance, a night after leading a race-high 88 laps in the Xfinity series event in finishing third behind winner Keselowski.
“We raced the heck out of each other, but I figured it out too late,” Logano said.
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon was seventh in his final race at Kentucky, the only track he hasn’t won at.