By Eric Young
SPARTA, Ky. — A late-race caution turned into a battle of the brothers as Kurt and Kyle Busch dueled during an over-time finish at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night with the elder brother, Kurt, coming out on top and claiming his 31st career victory.
“What an amazing finish to have it go our way right there,” Kurt said in the media center after the race. “It’s amazing what happened for us to have that restart, and have Kyle Larson behind me in the sixth position. The spotter said, ‘Teammate’s going with you.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, is he really?’ And he did, and he did a phenomenal job, and I didn’t have to look in the mirror, and all I had to do was play offense out in front of me. And what a battle. What a battle with my little brother, to race him side-by-side. To try to play the chess game and 180 miles an hour on the side draft. We’re wide open through turns one and two, and we were trying to go wide open through three and four, and it was a matter of me just staying as close as I could to his right rear quarter panel, because he was on my left rear down the straightaway. I had to be on his right rear in the corners.”
Kurt said as he drove into turn three on the final lap, he focused on Kyle’s door.
“I could see the number 18 in my left, and I never lifted until I heard him lift,” Kurt said. :And then I’m like, wait a minute, I still have to miss the wall. And he gave me just enough room, as a true racer would. Or as my little brother would.”
Kurt said he was proud to finish the race one-two with Kyle.
“Put on one hell of a show, one of those old-school-type races where two guys duking it out just happen to be brothers, different manufacturers. But this one I can’t wait to go watch the video of and tell people about it and show people the sport of NASCAR and the production and the pride that everybody has to try to get to victory lane was shown in those last few laps.”
Kyle said it was unfortunate to come up just a bit short at the end.
“I got him cleared by just a little bit into three, and I think I could have slid up in front of him, but I think if I did I would have knocked the wall down on the exit,” Kyle said. “It was just going to be carrying too much speed for how bad my front tires were and how tight I was. So we just didn’t quite make the right adjustments there through the final pit stop, putting right side tires on it, we got way too tight.”
Kyle lost the lead to Joey Logano a few laps before the final caution, which came out when Darrell Wallace Jr. spun in turn two. He said it was that tightness that cost him then as well.
“That’s what lost us the race with the 22,” Kyle said. “22 got us, we were going to lose anyway, so at least I salvaged the same place that we would have finished anyways.”
Logano was unable to salvage a similar finish, going from the lead to a finish of seventh in the final two laps.
“The caution came out at the wrong time,” he 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 got into me. That is what it is. That stopped all my momentum. The 1 had a huge run 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 said he thought it was a good race for the fans.
“Yeah, it was a great race,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. You had strategy and a lot of cautions. You had probably the best Kentucky race we’ve ever had. Even down to that last bit, I think if I was a race fan I’d say that it was a good finish. Maybe I’m a little too close to the fire to say that it was a good finish right now.”
Erik Jones was able to bring his car home third and called it a “solid day.”
“The car was good until the end,” he said. “We got a little tight, but overall we had a positive day and you can’t take a whole lot away from that.”
Jones said on the final restart, he needed some help to have a chance at the win.
“I needed a mistake from somebody or a really good restart,” he said. “And we got a really good restart, we just didn’t quite get cleared. I had to be really patient getting into three on the bottom. I didn’t want to get loose and get up into those guys, but getting behind Kyle and Kurt, if somebody made a mistake, I was just trying to stay at bay and hoping in three and four they would wash up and I would get a chance to sneak by. But they’re good drivers. They’re incontrol, they know what they’re doing, and they kept it clean and kept it straight.”
Jones said he was hoping the two would get together and take each other out.
“Oh for sure, I think any racer would have been in my spot,” he said. “You want that win. And I knew there wasn’t enough time and I didn’t have the car to do it against them. And I needed a situation where they were going to move out of my way and they tried. They definitely tried to. But we just didn’t quite get there.”
Kyle Larson has had an up and down season, but followed his teammate’s victory with a fourth-place finish at Kentucky. He was asked if there was a rivalry between he and Kurt about who would get to victory lane first.
“I pushed him to the win, so I wouldn’t say there was a rivalry at all,” Larson said. “We’re teammates, so I think we both want to see each other succeed.”
He then acknowledged there might be a slight rivalry there.
“I won the All Star race, so I beat him to victory lane,” Larson said.
Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five Saturday night.
“Yeah, we definitely had a fast car — a car that was fast enough to run up there with those guys, but obviously going to the back of the pack there with 80 to go was detrimental to try to win the race. We had to make a call with no tires there and we didn’t gain track position. We had worse tires than everyone around us and still was able to come up fifth, so pretty happy with that effort. We have fast cars every week. As long as we have a clean race, we have chances to win and we just can’t have the penalties that we have and wrecks that we’ve had. It’s just a combination of things where we’re really, really close.”
After the race, Kyle Busch said there were no hard feelings with the way Kurt raced him.
“No hard feelings,” Kyle said. “That was fine. It was good. He’s got to find his own ride home because I’m not waiting for him.”
Kurt was asked in the media center what his brother had said to him postrace.
“I haven’t seen him yet, but I was supposed to fly home with him and now I’m looking for a plane ride,” Kurt said, laughing. “So that’s Kyle. Wouldn’t even wait. We shared a plane ride earlier this year, I think it was Phoenix, where he won, and I had to sit there and wait for him to do his whole victory lane.”
But Kurt said he’ll get him back Sunday.
“We’re going over to his house tomorrow for a little get together on a Sunday off, and I’m going to plop the trophy right down on his kitchen counter,” he said, smiling.
There were 15 lead changes among 10 drivers Saturday night, with Kyle leading the most at 72 laps. Daniel Suarez led 52 before having issues on pit road. Kurt led 41 and Clint Bowyer 40.
There were seven cautions for 35 laps.
Look for a full recap of Saturday’s race later this week on The SuperSpeedway Podcast, as well as a preview of the upcoming weekend at New Hampshire.