LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Kyle Busch saw little but billowing white smoke that engulfed the track and blinded enough drivers that it caused a tremendous wreck that sunk his toughest competition.
In his No. 18 Toyota, the driver nicknamed “Rowdy” knew there was only one way to handle the sudden pollution: Drive through it!
Busch slinked through the smoke clouds formed in the multi-car crash on the backstretch and dominated the rest of the way to win Sunday at New Hampshire Motorspeedway.
“That was pretty intense,” Busch said. “That was some ‘Days of Thunder’ stuff over there. You couldn’t see anything.”
He held on and saw a victory lane celebration for the third time this season. Busch earned a berth in the second round of NASCAR’s playoffs and took his customary bow on the track. He even stuck a bag of M&M’s on the claws of Loudon the Lobster , the 18-pound crustacean given to the race winner.
Busch, who won from the pole, put together a complete effort once the wreck derailed race leader and fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. Truex, who won the playoff opener at Chicagoland, and Busch both earned automatic spots in the second round. Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski advanced on points.
Truex led 112 laps until his run ended in the accident, though he rallied to finish fifth.
The playoff standings were shaken up in the wake of the massive multi-car wreck that sent playoff drivers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick to the garage. Harvick’s car was hit by Austin Dillon on the last lap of the second stage.
Harvick spun and smoke billowed over the track, leaving drivers almost blinded to the traffic ahead. Busch, Harvick’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, slammed into Harvick. Truex backed up to straighten himself out and instead suffered left-rear damage when he smacked another car.
Kurt Busch, the Daytona 500 champion, will likely have to win next week at Dover to advance to the second round.
“It’s all-in. We’ll go there with everything we’ve got like we have been,” he said.
Harvick, the 2014 series champion, had accumulated enough playoff points that one DNF shouldn’t cost him a spot in the top 12.
“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,” Harvick said.
Playoff drivers filled the top five spots: Larson was second, followed by Matt Kenseth, Keselowski and Truex.
“We had damage and had to fight from the back of the pack the rest of the day,” Truex said.
Kyle Busch, who had his shot at victory at Chicagoland end because of pit road miscues, survived the wreckage to lead 187 laps and showed that Joe Gibbs Racing will be a player in the postseason. He found the opening between the wall and Harvick and won his 41st Cup race.
Maybe next time, Busch will have a clear path to the checkered flag.
“That was a close call,” Busch said. “The cloud of smoke was so large that you literally couldn’t see anything.”
Other items of note at New Hampshire:
Larson and Brad Keselowski also advanced on points to the second round. Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne are the bottom four drivers in the playoff standings.
Larson was second in both New Hampshire races this season.
It appeared no drivers, crew or other team members participated in a protest during the national anthem. Several team owners and executives had said they wouldn’t want anyone in their organizations to protest.
Richard Childress, who was Dale Earnhardt’s longtime team owner, said of protesting, “It’ll get you a ride on a Greyhound bus.” Childress said he told his team that “anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America.”
Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty’s sentiments took it a step further, saying: “Anybody that don’t stand up for the anthem oughta be out of the country. Period. What got ‘em where they’re at? The United States.”
When asked if a protester at Richard Petty Motorsports would be fired, he said, “You’re right.”
Another team owner, Chip Ganassi, said he supports Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s comments. Tomlin said before the Steelers played on Sunday that players would remain in the locker room and that “we’re not going to let divisive times or divisive individuals affect our agenda.”
Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls as coach of the Washington Redskins, said of the anthem that “so much has been sacrificed for our country and our flag. It’s a big deal for us to honor America.”
NASCAR said 2016 champion Jimmie Johnson had not been invited to the White House for recognition as he had in the past, but that it necessarily wasn’t out of the ordinary because of the change in office.
New Hampshire is called the Magic Mile and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. made its fall race disappear. This was the last time the track will hold two Cup races as the September date will move in 2018 to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, another SMI track.
The first cutoff race is held at Dover. Truex won this race last season. Johnson’s win in the spring race this year was his 11th at the track.