When Bubba Wallace spun in Turn 2 with six laps left in Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, it changed the course of the entire race.
For one thing, it bunched the field for an overtime restart that put brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch center stage for a breathtaking finish, with Kurt taking the checkered flag .076 seconds ahead of his younger sibling.
For another, it treated the fans in the grandstands to the most electrifying finish of the season.
But one person who wasn’t thrilled was Team Penske driver Joey Logano, who had a comfortable lead over Kyle Busch and seemed bound for Victory lane when Wallace spun to cause the seventh caution of the evening.
The race went to overtime, and on the restart, Logano got sandwiched between drivers and dropped to seventh at the finish.
“The caution came out at the wrong time,” Logano said. “It happens. 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.
“The 1 (Kurt Busch) had a huge run (on the outside), and I didn’t have anywhere to go. I couldn’t block them all. I tried to stop the 18 on his right rear by side-drafting. I saw the 1 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.”
Logano didn’t win with arguably the fastest car. Nevertheless, he expressed appreciation for the quality of the event.
“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’m a little too close to the fire to say it was a cool finish right now.”
SUAREZ BATTLES BACK TO SCORE EIGHTH-PLACE FINISH
Until the first round of pit stops, Daniel Suarez looked like the class of the field in Saturday night’s Quaker State 400.
Seeking his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, Suarez started on the pole and led the first 49 laps, but during a pit stop under caution for Chase Elliott’s blown right front tire, Suarez’s crew chief, Billy Scott, opted for four tires, while many others went for right sides only or no tires.
Consequently, the driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford dropped to 13th for a restart on Lap 53. Further hurting Suarez’s effort was a green-flag pit stop on Lap 108 that drew a pit road penalty. Suarez lost three laps before he began a determined rally.
When green-flag stops cycled through, he was one lap down, and on Lap 179 of a planned 267, he returned to the lead lap as the highest-scored lapped car. A determined drive the rest of the way left him eighth at the finish.
“It was an eventful night for sure,” Suarez said. “We just 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. I feel like the good thing is that we have the speed. We just have to keep working to have a cleaner day and keep working to try to keep that speed the whole race.”
JONES HAS A FRONT-ROW SEAT FOR BUSCH BROTHERS BATTLE
A quick pit stop for fuel only got Erik Jones the track position he needed late in Saturday’s Quaker State 400, and put him in the third spot for the overtime restart that decided the race.
Jones watched from his driver’s seat as brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch swapped door-slams over the final two laps. As he watched the battle in front of him, Jones tried to find a path to victory.
“Yeah, I had two choices there going into (Turns) 3 and 4 (on the final lap),” Jones said. “I knew they were probably going to slide up, so I was going to try to run to the bottom and make a run on them, but they didn’t slide up enough, and I was tight and couldn’t quite get the run I needed to.
“But the Craftsman Camry was good. It was fast from the start. We just needed some track position. We needed to get up there and finally did and had a shot. We were just a little too tight at the end. But good day, lots of points, which is what we needed. I’d love to be standing there on the front stretch where (race winner) Kurt (Busch) is, but we’re close, and we’re just going to keep after it and get there soon.”
The good news is that Jones climbed into 16th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, the last Playoff-eligible position. He is now two points to the good over Ryan Newman.
“Well, it’s good that we’re ahead of it now, and we just need to keep it going,” Jones said. “We built ourselves big deficit through some misfortune and bad luck, and we’re digging out of it now, but we’re doing a good job at it and doing the best we can. Getting back on the good side of is a good start. We just need to keep it rolling and hopefully get a win here soon.”
(By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.)