LOUDON, N.H. — Highlights of Sunday’s ISM Connect 300, the second race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
WINNER: Kyle Busch dominated the closing stage and beat Kyle Larson by nearly 3 seconds to win and automatically advance to the second round.
Matt Kenseth was third, Brad Keselowski fourth and Truex fought his way back from a multi-car crash to close Stage 2 to finish fifth.
“This thing was awesome," Busch said of his No. 18 Toyota, which he put on the pole and kept out of trouble in a points-jarring wreck that closed Stage 2. "We ran up front all day long. We executed. We did what we were supposed to do. It's pretty cool to win here on this hot day.
“It's just a testament to this team. It's fun to drive these Toyota Camrys. We know how fast they are. It's an awesome day for us. We had some really good short-run speed there at the end. We were really able to set the field, set the pace.”
Larson, meanwhile, registered his eighth runner-up finish of the season. He has four wins so far. "I've felt like on really long runs, I was fairly equal to those guys," Larson said. "On short runs, (Busch) was just really good. The 78 (Truex) was good, the 20 (Kenseth). I'm fine (with) second. Second will get us to Homestead (the four-driver finale).
"Obviously you want to win -- second is the first loser. But especially when you get to the playoffs, winning is really important, but consistency is just as important.” Busch joins Martin Truex Jr., who won the playoff opener last weekend. The field will be cut from 16 to 12 drivers after next week's race at Dover International Speedway.
IMPACTFUL STAGE 2: Eight cars, including race- and points-leader Truex, were involved in an odd collision on Lap 149 when Kevin Harvick spun after contact from behind from Austin Dillon on the backstretch. Harvick was subsequently struck by Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch and a red flag period was issued as their cars had to be separated. Truex’s left rear was heavily dented when he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. both attempted to back out of the smoky melee and drive away.
Harvick and Busch, both playoff-qualifiers, retired after 148 laps. Harvick finished 36th, Busch, 37th. Busch, who won the Daytona 500 to qualify for the playoffs, is in a must-win situation next week.
Kyle Busch, who had spent the entire race pursuing Truex, squeezed through a car-width opening between Harvick and the outside wall to avoid the crash and win the stage before the race was halted. Five of 16 title-eligible drivers were involved in the incident.
“That was pretty intense," Kyle Busch said after winning. "You couldn't see anything. There was just a wall of smoke. My crew chief told me to stop, which seemed like a good idea. I just checked up as much as I could and tried not to get wrecked from behind.” Truex, who had led 109 laps, fell to sixth after the incident but was able to continue after repairs. He re-started 18th, but worked back to 10th on a Lap 220 caution.
FLICKERING: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., last in points of 16 playoff drivers, brushed the wall early and slogged to another poor finish with one race left in the first round, when the field will be cut to a dozen. He was lapped by Truex by Lap 136.
STAGE ONE: Truex claimed his series-best 19th stage of the season, followed by Kyle Larson and Kyle Busch. Truex earned an extra point to his total in the second round of the playoffs. He already has advanced by winning the playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway last week. Rookie Erik Jones was the only non-playoff qualifier (fourth) in the top 10 of the stage. The 75-lap segment was run entirely under green.
TROUBLE: Playoff-qualifier Kasey Kahne caused a caution by stopping on the track on Lap 262 and was forced to pit road with an apparent suspension problem. The unscheduled stop ruined what had been a passable points day.
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