Overtime battle between Busch brothers decides Quaker State 400 winner
The next time Kentucky Speedway celebrates a milestone anniversary, the finish of the 2019 Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart will be a no-brainer to include in any highlight reel.
A late caution pushed Saturday's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race into overtime and set up a furious two-lap dash between two brothers who traded paint and produced the closest finish in race history.
In the end, Kurt Busch beat Kyle Busch to the finish line by 0.076 of a second.
After taking the checkered flag, Kurt Busch performed a celebratory burnout on the frontstretch as his crew jogged over from pit road. The driver climbed out of his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, chugged an energy drink and exclaimed for all to hear, "Hell, yeah! Hell, yeah!"
"What a battle with my little brother," he said later. "To race him side-by-side, to try to play the chess game at 180 miles per hour on the side draft. We were wide open through Turns 1 and 2. We were trying to go wide open through (Turns) 3 and 4…. As we drove down into Turn 3 on the last lap, I just stared straight as his door. I could see the No. 18 to my left and I never lifted (off the gas) until I heard him lift. Then I was like, 'Wait a minute, I've still got to miss the wall.'
"He gave me just enough room, as a true racer would, or as my little brother would. But I'm really proud of the way we finished this race, finishing 1-2. We put on a hell of a show. One of those old-school type races where it's two guys duking it out. Just happened to be brothers. Different manufacturers. This one, I can't wait to go watch the video of and tell people about it and show the sport of NASCAR."
The victory represented several firsts - for Busch, crew chief Matt McCall and Chevrolet.
Neither had won a Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway. It also was Busch's first victory this season, his first with Chip Ganassi Racing, and McCall's first as a crew chief in the Cup Series.
"Badass," was McCall's initial summation of the Busch brothers' battle. "That's the easiest way to put it. Two racers getting after it, and the ol' wheel man figured it out."
Joe Gibbs Racing placed three three of its four cars in the top five, led by Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota. Erik Jones finished third in the No. 20 Toyota and Denny Hamlin finished fifth in the No. 11 Toyota. Kurt Busch's teammate, Kyle Larson, finished fourth in the No. 42 Chevrolet.
"I'm glad it was a thriller," said Kyle Busch, a two-time Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart winner and four-time winner in the Cup Series this season. "Just unfortunately we were on the wrong end of the deal. Congratulations to Kurt and Chip and (sponsor) Monster and all the guys over there.
"It's obviously cool to put on great races and great finishes, and (I've) been a part of a lot of them and not very many - in fact, none with my brother like that. So that was a first."
The race stretched two laps past its scheduled distance after Bubba Wallace spun with six laps remaining to bring out a caution.
Joey Logano led and chose the outside lane on the restart. To the inside of his No. 22 Team Penske Ford was Kyle Busch.
Lined up behind them were Jones and Kurt Busch.
The restart mirrored others throughout the race - furious racing with three- and sometimes four-wide racing in the turns.
"The caution came out at the wrong time. It happens," said Logano, who finished seventh. "You try to think through your notebook on how to have a good restart. I thought I was going to have a decent one but I got stopped on the left rear there when Kyle (Busch) got into me. That is what it is. That stopped all my momentum. (Kurt Busch) had a huge run and I didn't have anywhere to go. I couldn't block them all. I tried to stop (Kyle Busch) on his right rear by side-drafting. I saw the 1 (of Kurt Busch) coming and felt like if I could get in front of him that we were so low at the time if I blocked the 1 he would just go to the middle and pass me. I felt like I couldn't stop the 1. I was in a bad spot. Once I got stopped on the left rear on the restart I was a sitting duck and they just went by me on both sides."
A new rules package. A different right-side tire from Goodyear. The ample application of traction compound in the turns. NASCAR's best drivers pushing their cars and their skills to the limits because they wanted to win in the worst way.
Added up, all those variables produced a classic reminiscent of the speedway's most famous finish between Greg Biffle and Todd Bodine in a 2002 Xfinity Series race.
"Yeah, it was a great race," Logano said. "It was a lot of fun. You had strategy and cautions and it was probably the best Kentucky race we have ever had. If I was a race fan, I would say that was a cool finish. I am a little too close to the fire to say it was a cool finish right now."
Earlier in the final stage, Clint Bowyer and the Busch brothers treated fans to a three-car battle for the lead that persisted for several laps. Kurt Busch continually challenged Bowyer for the lead. As that happened, Kyle Busch entered the fray.
Kurt Busch finally powered past Bowyer on Lap 205. Bowyer pitted one lap later and Kurt Busch ducked onto pit road a handful of laps later, handing the lead to his brother. Kyle Busch then pitted from the lead on Lap 226. In the mix throughout was Logano, who pitted at the same time as Kyle Busch.
The Busch brothers swept the first two stages of Saturday's race.
Seven cars stayed on the track at the conclusion of Stage 1 while the leaders made pit stops. Of the seven, only Alex Bowman had won a race this season.
Kyle Busch was eighth on the restart and steadily improved his position. By Lap 104, he had Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in his sights and passed the driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing for the lead at the start/finish line. Stenhouse pitted 11 laps later.
After taking the lead, Kyle Busch extended his advantage over the second place car to about eight seconds after passing Stenhouse. He maintained the lead through a cycle of green-flag pit stops and easily earned his sixth stage win of the season.
Busch gave up the lead under caution before the start of Stage 3 but did not lose many spots because he took only fuel on his pit stop. He led 72 laps overall Saturday.
Kurt Busch qualified fourth and vaulted to the lead with a fuel-only pit stop in Stage 1 and led the final 28 laps for his first stage victory this season. He led 41 laps overall.
Pole-winner Daniel Suarez led the first 50 laps and 52 overall Saturday. He finished eighth.
"It was an eventful night, for sure," Suarez said. "We had a fast race car but we got a bit tight. I feel like we made the car better, but we never got the track position back. We had a tire going down and then I was speeding coming to pit road because I was wheel hopping because of the tire. It was one problem after another. We were fast enough to overcome that but not enough to get a better finish."
Martin Truex Jr., who entered Saturday as the two-time defending race winner, finished 19th in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Three-time Quaker State 400 winner Brad Keselowski led three laps but finished 20th in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford
In total, there were 15 lead changes among 10 drivers and the race was slowed by five cautions for incidents on the track. Saturday's finish put an exclamation point on Kentucky Speedway's tripleheader race weekend and its 20th season of racing.
It was a blur for McCall.
"It worked out at the end," he said. "I knew we had a car capable and Kurt could obviously get it done. When the caution came out, the seas parted and the Lord was with us."
Two years ago, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin delivered the green flag for the Quaker State 400 by rappelling in from a helicopter and then drove the pace car.
This year, Bevin took a joyride with NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton during the pace laps in NBC's demonstration Toyota Camry before the green flag and had a blast.
"We dialed in a perfect night for you. Not a cloud in the sky. I'm here with the man, the myth, Jeff Burton," Bevin said while strapped into the passenger seat. "Toyota is a rock star and to be in a Toyota Camry, made right here in Kentucky, not all of them are 900 horses. But I tell you what, it is an honor to have this world class company right here in the Commonwealth."
When Burton stepped on the gas, Bevin lit up.
"I'll tell you what, there is nothing quite like getting stuck to the side of a Toyota on a hot lap," he said. "This is the way we do it in Kentucky. Perfect weather. Perfect cars. Perfect track. Engineering and manufacturing the best products in America every single day."
SPECIAL GUEST: The honorary race director for the 2019 Quaker State 400 was Jefferson County resident Elaine Chao, the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary and the only Kentuckian appointed to the President's Cabinet since World War II.
"This is the thrill of a lifetime and I am just delighted beyond belief," she said. "It is great to see everyone here. There are 80,000 Kentuckians and fans from the region and around the country. This is a great sport. We want to make sure that it is safe, that fans have a great experience and we welcome all to Kentucky."
Chao also spoke about the U.S. Department of Transportation's relationship with NASCAR.
"We both share a great concern about safety," she said. "We are still involved with the various state department's of transportation to emphasize safety, to emphasize seat belt use.
"Today, I am here to take a look at one of the great sports of America, a quintessential American sport, to see what goes on here at Kentucky Speedway, to work with NASCAR and emphasize their issues about safety and then, of course, to welcome fans to my home state of Kentucky."
WHO DEY IN SPARTA: First-year Bengals head coach Zac Taylor served as honorary pace car driver for the Quaker State 400 and had never attended a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event before Saturday.
"Just seeing the whole atmosphere right now, overwhelming is not the right word. It's such an awesome experience," Taylor said. "I've already fallen in love with the sport just being around it today.
"I got a chance to ride in the pace car. I only get to go 45 miles per hour, which is probably a good thing because seeing all those cars behind me is going to be a little bit different experience. Really looking forward to it."
As part of his experience Saturday, Taylor got a behind-the-scenes look at how NASCAR pit crews prepare for their roles in a race.
"A lot of them have used football terminology, 'Here's our head coach. Here's our (offensive coordinator). Here's our (defensive coordinator).' That puts it into perspective for us. That part of it - the strategy, what goes on during the week, how they prepare, how they study film of themselves - that's what's really been intriguing to me as a coach. The race is really just the icing on the cake."
Bengals fans greeted Taylor with chants of "Who dey!" everywhere he went Saturday.
"It's good to get out and get a chance to meet a lot of different people and just hear what their experiences are and what that fan support is like," he said. "Sometimes when you isolate yourself in the building and you're only around other coaches and you do what you do, you lose a little bit of what the organization means to all these people out here."
THE BIG ONE: Professional angler and Quaker State brand ambassador Jimmy Houston returned to Kentucky Speedway and hosted a series of lakeside fishing events on property in the lead-up to the Quaker State 400.
While filming a segment for Jimmy Houston Outdoors, an angler fishing from the bank hooked into a trophy largemouth bass.
"I heard it floppin' around. I run down there and pull it up on the bank and helped him with it," he said. "Let me tell ya, I don't know how many of you fish, but an 8-pound bass is a really large bass. I don't care if you're fishing in Florida or wherever. A 7- or 8-pound bass in the state of Kentucky is a really big fish because it gets cold up here. They don't grow as well as they do in the south. Maybe he might've caught the largest fish in that pond down there."
The video is posted on the Jimmy Houston Outdoors channel on YouTube.
REMEMBERING DAVEY: Veteran NASCAR crew chief and television analyst Larry McReynolds was the grand marshal for the Quaker State 400.
Before the race, was asked about late NASCAR star Davey Allison. Saturday was the 26th anniversary of Allison's death in 1993.
McReynolds was Allison's crew chief but their relationship ran deeper than that.
"I woke up this morning and the first thing I thought about - 26 years ago yesterday was when, unfortunately, Davey crashed in the helicopter at Talladega. We got the word in the wee hours 26 years ago this morning that he had passed away," McReynolds said. "I did a radio show earlier and it kind of dawned on me about that time of day I was on an airplane headed back to Charlotte to gather with the race team like when a family gathers when you lose a family member.
"Not only 26 years ago, July 13, 1993, did I lose a great racecar driver and just a great man. I lost my best friend. Our relationship as a driver and crew chief was small compared to our relationship as friends. We even had our sons baptized together…. That Daytona 500 trophy from 1992 sits in my office and there's not a day that I don't walk by it and smile. I can almost safely say there's not a day that goes by that I don't think about Davey Allison."