MADISON, Ill. (AP) — Kyle Busch held off Denny Hamlin through a series of late restarts to win the chaotic, caution-filled NASCAR Cup Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway just outside of St. Louis on Sunday.
Bubba Wallace brought out the 11th and final yellow when his brake rotor let go with five laps remaining. There were also two red flags to go with a two-hour weather delay that caused the mid-afternoon race to finish in the twilight.
With the floodlights coming on around the speedway, Busch got a big push from Denny Hamlin on the final restart — the fifth over the last 40-some laps — and pulled away for his third win of the season for Richard Childress Racing.
“Our short-track stuff has been a struggle this year. We knew we really wanted to come out here and set a focus on running at a shorter track,” said Busch, whose other wins this year came at Talladega and Auto Club Speedway in California.
“I felt like this was a good precursor to what we have coming for the rest of the year,” Busch said.
The win was especially gratifying for Busch’s crew chief, Randall Burnett, who not only produced a car fast enough to win the pole in his hometown but also made all the right calls on Sunday. Burnett hails from nearby Fenton, Missouri, and had plenty of friends and family in a sellout crowd of about 60,000 on a brutally hot early summer day.
Hamlin finished second while Joey Logano, the winner a year ago in his Cup Series debut at the track, got around Kyle Larson on the final lap for third. Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five ahead of Ryan Blaney, last week’s winner at Charlotte.
“Long day for sure,” Logano said after climbing out of his car. “There were four or five cars that were just better than us. We made some good adjustments at the end and we were in the hunt.”
It was a long day for Corey LaJoie, who filled in for Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports and spent most of the day near the back before finishing 21st. Elliott was suspended for the race for intentionally wrecking Hamlin last week.
It was also a long day for everyone on the pit stands. There were some technical issues that not only prevented them from having communication with teams back at their shops, but also limited the amount of data that they were able to see.
“It was interesting for sure,” Truex said. “It was just an uphill climb, really tough to get through the field.”
The race went to caution on the second lap when Tyler Reddick spun on the back stretch. Moments later, the race was halted due to popup lightning in the area. While the delay lasted about two hours, rain never fell on the track.
Carson Hocevar made his Cup Series debut in place of LaJoie in the no. 7 for Spire Motorsports. But the car still carried LaJoie’s name, so the 20-year-old Hocevar walked through the fan area several hours before the green flag handing out drinks to make sure everyone knew he was in it. Hocevar was on the move Sunday when his brake rotor broke during Stage 2.
“I was running 16th and it was so surreal. I thought we were going to have a good day and be in a good spot,” Hocevar said. “Hopefully that call for a Cup ride isn’t the only one I get in my life.”
The egg-shaped oval at World Wide Technology Raceway is particularly hard on brakes. Reddick was running seventh when his rotor exploded, putting him into the wall and out of the race. The same fate as Hocevar and Reddick hit Noah Gragson, who spun from the bottom of the track up into the wall and made hard contact with 42 laps to go.
Thomas Hatcher, who changed the right front tire for Erik Jones, was hurt when he got tangled with another crew member as the car slid into the stall during a pit stop. Hatcher was taken by ambulance to the hospital but was awake and alert.
The series heads next Sunday to the road course in Sonoma, California. Daniel Suárez became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race when he dominated the final stage to win the race a year ago.
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