DOVER, Del. — Highlights of Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400, the first elimination race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup playoffs, at Dover International Speedway:
WINNER: Kyle Busch passed Chase Elliott with less than two laps to go to win his second consecutive playoff race. Elliott led a race-high 138 laps but couldn't hold off the 2015 series champion, who closed a four-second gap in the in the latter stages of the third segement to prevent Elliott from scoring his first career Cup victory.
"That was hard fought; that was everything I had," Busch said as he climbed out of his car to celebrate on the start finish line. "I got up there, got up to the top and got rim-riding and got the momentum and that carried me past the 24 (Elliott).
"We put on a heck of a show at Dover. I know Chase has been hungry and has been trying to get his first win for a long time. I can't say enough about Chase. He's a heck of a competitor." Elliott had been the dominant car throughout the final stage but was extremely discouraged that he couldn't seal the deal.
“I’m just so disappointed in myself. I gave it away," Elliott said. "I appreciate my team. They kept us in the ballgame, and I didn’t.”
Four drivers were eliminated as the first round came to a close: Kurt Busch, who opened the season with a win at the Daytona 500; Kasey Kahne, who has seven races left before departing Hendrick Motorsports; and Richard Childress Racing drivers Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon.
Twelve drivers advanced to the second round that begins next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Martin Truex Jr. will take an 18-point lead over Kyle Busch into the second round, followed Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson. Also advancing (in order): Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney, Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray.
BARREL RACING: The race’s first caution — and eventual first red — flag appeared on lap 87 when Jeffrey Earnhardt approached pit road with too much speed and slid into the sand barrels protecting the wall at the pit entrance. Earnhardt’s crash spread sand and pieces of barrels onto the track, forcing a red flag for cleanup. The delay lasted 15 minutes and nine seconds. The incident occurred during a round of pit stops and scrambled the front group.
STAGE ONE: Keselowski outran Kyle Busch easily to finish first at the end of stage one, but the biggest result might have been Stenhouse’s fourth-place run, giving him a significant boost in the playoff picture. The top 10 at the end of the stage: Keselowski, Busch, Truex, Stenhouse, Danica Patrick, Larson, Elliott, Harvick, David Ragan, and Hamlin.
SMOKING SORENSON: The third caution of the race flew on lap 168 because of smoke pouring from Reed Sorenson’s car, which dropped fluid on the track. Kyle Larson held the lead.
STAGE TWO: Larson cruised to a win in the second stage, leading 96 laps and finishing in front of Truex. Completing the top 10 were Elliott, Kyle Busch, Johnson, Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski, McMurray and Clint Bowyer. Through two stages, Larson had led 131 laps, more than twice as many as any other driver.
HAMLIN INTO WALL: With 27 laps to go, Hamlin, safely in the next round of the playoffs, whacked the outside wall and dropped onto the apron before driving onto pit road. There was no caution.