How one caution turned the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs upside down

One caution helped Kurt Busch turn the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs on its head and breathe new life into his quest for a second series championship.

Busch’s only series title came in 2004, the first year NASCAR used a 10-race playoff which it then called the Chase to determine its series champion.

Entering Sunday night’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Busch was ranked lowest among the 12 remaining playoff contenders. In other words, he was probably the least likely to be considered a lock for the Round of 8.

All that changed on Lap 236 of 268, when NASCAR displayed a caution for debris on the backstretch after Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet suffered a flat tire and dropped pieces on the track.

At the time, just about every playoff driver was caught a lap down by the caution, having recently completed their respective stops. Everyone in the playoffs except Kurt Busch, who had remained on the track and not yet pit.

The value of track position 

Suddenly, Busch found himself in a prime position late in the race with excellent track position and his fellow playoff competitors far behind him.

When the race returned to green on Lap 243, Busch grabbed the lead from Matt DiBenedetto and then never let go despite two more restarts, including the final one heading into overtime.

The result was Busch’s first win of the 2020 season, his first ever at his hometown track of Las Vegas and he became the first driver locked into the Round of 8.

“I’ll be honest with you, we needed everything to go perfect in this round to advance to the Round of 8t. You never want to count yourself out as a championship contender, but we knew we needed to work a little harder to keep pace with (Denny Hamlin), to keep pace with (Kevin Harvick),” Busch said.

“You never know when your moment is going to come and the yellow came out at a perfect opportunity for us. I still think it’s important to grab points at Talladega and the Roval. We still need to go out there and put points in our pocket.”

A Final Four upset?

The victory at Las Vegas also provides Busch and his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing team that could pull another surprise in the Round of 8 and advance to the Championship 4.

Two of the three races in the semifinal round are at Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway, both intermediate 1.5-mile tracks like Las Vegas.

Also, Busch’s most recent win prior to Sunday came at Kentucky Speedway last season, another 1.5-mile track.

Should Busch be able to replicate his speed and excellent track position at either Texas or Kansas, Busch could well shake up the playoffs one more time.

“We last won together at Kentucky on a mile-and-a-half. So, if you fast forward to Kansas and Texas, it’s a mile-and-a-half. So, everything is just pointing in our direction right now,” Busch said.

“I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but we will enjoy this. We thought we were a top eight team if things went perfectly. All in all, this is a huge breath of fresh air. It’s wind in our sails.”

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