Race Wrap Up: Rowdy roughs up Larson in the Windy City
Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson put on the race of the season Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway after a spirited last-lap battle that saw the duo slam fenders, bumpers
After struggling just to stay on the lead lap at times, Busch's crew made the right adjustments and got him off pit road first late to set up the win. But it wasn't without a fight, as the 2015 champion had to hold off Kevin Harvick and Larson to get his fifth win of the year.
"We just weren't very good, to put it
How Busch won the race: With three laps to go, it looked all but over after Larson got into the turn four
On the final lap, Larson tried to put a dirt-track slide job on Busch in turns one and two. Unable to clear Busch, Larson got into the left rear of the 18, sending him into the wall. This allowed Larson to briefly get the lead heading to Turn
"I thought he was going to pull a slide job. When he didn't try to do a slider, then I wasn't sure what his next move was going to be," Busch said. "I was like, 'surely he's not going to drive into the side of me. Then he did. After that point, all games were off right now, all bets are off. It's wide open here on out back to the checkered flag.
"Getting into turn three, it was just about following him in there and seeing if I couldn't cut left under
That's racin': If you thought Kyle Larson would be mad after being dumped on the last lap, think again. He was quick to defend Busch's actions, saying he opened the door for even more contact after getting into Busch's door in turn two.
"I mean, I hit him first," Larson said. "I roughed him up, he roughed me up. That's racing."
As hard as it is to believe, Larson is still chasing his first win on a 1.5-mile oval. He does have seven runner-up finishes on mile-and-a-
The most amazing thing about Larson's finish was the fact that he was able to make a race out of it, especially after hitting the Turn 4 wall with a handful of laps to go. And that save off Turn 4 on the last lap? Even Kyle Busch couldn't believe Larson held on to finish second.
Annoyed Almirola: Since joining Stewart-Haas Racing at the start of this season, Aric Almirola has experienced a career resurgence. Through 17 races, Almirola has already tied his career high for top 10s with seven. At one point, though, it looked like he was ready to finally pull off his first win with SHR.
Almirola won his first ever stage and led a race-high 70 laps and held off charges from Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch before he was forced to pit road in Stage 2 with a loose left rear wheel. That wasn't the end of his pit road troubles. A second loose wheel ended his hopes of a solid finish and relegated Almirola to 25th at the end of the day.
"We're capable of winning. We showed it today. We're capable," Almirola told NBC after the race. "We're bringing incredible race cars to the race track and we've just got to put a whole day together. We've got to be flawless on pit road."
Today was frustrating. We have incredibly fast cars week in and week out. We just have to put an entire race together. I know our time will come. We will get to victory lane. We just have to be perfect to do it. And we will be...#SmithfieldRacing pic.twitter.com/XAPf4FAGEn— Aric Almirola (@Aric_Almirola) July 2, 2018
Almirola is still in great shape for the playoffs, sitting 126 points above the cut line heading to the site of his lone Cup Series win in 2014.
But Almirola's problems were nothing compared to one of his teammates'.
Bowyer's big adventure: It only took Clint Bowyer 18 laps to get the lead after qualifying in fifth, but his day was nearly wasted thanks to the first round of pit stops.
Bowyer gave up the lead under green on Lap 38. After being caught speeding, Bowyer
Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz kept Bowyer out during a round of green flag stops in Stage 2, and wouldn't you know, the 14 team caught a lucky debris yellow that allowed them to take the free pass and get back on the lead lap around halfway. While Bowyer never got back to the front, he was able to drive back to a fifth-place finish.
Teammates tangle: The addition of stage racing continues to be one of the most exciting elements in NASCAR racing and Sunday's race at Chicagoland delivered another example why.
With the end of Stage 2 drawing near, Kurt Busch looked to be headed for his third stage win of the season when Kevin Harvick jumped to the outside lane and stole the win from his teammate. The two appeared to make slight contact exiting turn four, leaving Busch a bit peeved that Harvick put a move on his teammate for the stage win.
NBC analyst Jeff Burton pulled no punches after reviewing the battle, insisting that Harvick did nothing wrong because they were racing for a playoff bonus point at the end of the stage.
"YOU'RE RACING!"— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) July 1, 2018
Kurt Busch was not happy with the way he was raced, and @JeffBurton has a response. What are your thoughts? Use #VictoryLap and we'll talk about it after the race! #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/rtLpf2tsk7
After the race, Harvick downplayed the incident, saying there was no trouble or need for a discussion with Busch. We'll chalk this one up to
Nice work, Dale! Unless you spent the last few weeks living under a rock, you knew Sunday's race was the first 2018 broadcast for the folks over at NBC. It also marked the highly anticipated debut for analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. (it still feels weird thinking of Dale as a broadcaster, but we digress), who drew rave reviews from fans and NASCAR personalities over the weekend. Dale's tell-it-like-it-is approach to complex strategy was refreshing, and his chemistry with Steve Letarte is exactly what you'd expect from a former driver-crew chief combination.
The best part of Dale being in the booth, though, was his pure joy. With Busch and Larson duking it out at the end, Earnhardt was hooting and hollering just like the fans in the stands and at home were. That kind of passion can't be faked, and Dale's down-home personality is exactly what race fans nationwide can relate to. Let's hope NBC lets Jr. continue to be himself as long as he's in the booth.
Bowtie bummer: After putting six cars in the top 10 in first practice Saturday, there was optimism in the Chevrolet camp. Chase Elliott said Friday that Hendrick Motorsports had some "major upgrades" coming to their machines starting at Chicago.
They've got plenty of work left to do. When the checkered flag fell, Chevrolet had just two top-10 finishers; Larson in second, and Alex Bowman in 10th. Outside of RCR teammates Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman leading 16 laps during green flag pit stops, Larson's seven laps were the only green flag laps paced by a Chevrolet driver in Sunday's race.
With the second half of the season upon us, there's a good possibility Chevy will only win one race, that being the season-opening Daytona 500. Outside of Larson, there hasn't been a single Chevy team that's shown the speed to run with the Big Three of Busch, Harvick
Bloomin' Monday: Another week, another Bloomin' Monday at Outback Steakhouse. Thanks to Kevin Harvick's third-place finish, you can celebrate like he won with a free Bloomin' Onion! All you have to do is
Next week: The Fourth of July is here, which means it's time for NASCAR to race back to Daytona for the Coke Zero 400 and Coca-Cola Firecracker 250. Last year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won his second race of the season, can he do it again to clinch another playoff berth, or is it going to be business as usual under the lights? Tune in to NBC or MRN for complete coverage of the events at Daytona.