In a vintage performance, Kurt Busch found himself in victory lane Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway as he outdueled his younger brother to net his first victory of 2021 and locked himself to the NASCAR Cup Series postseason.
The win marks Kurt’s 33rd in the Cup Series and he did it leading the most laps in a race since joining Chip Ganassi Racing in 2019 (144).
The farewell race to Atlanta’s current configuration saw the longtime veterans and brothers in Kurt and Kyle Busch dominate the first two stages of the race.
The two led a combined 135 of the first 160 laps while the rest of the field struggled to keep their cars straight with the old, gritty surface, and instead of fighting other drivers for position, they were fighting the track to keep as much grip on their tires as possible.
With Kurt Busch playing a big role in the race for the final playoff spots, the standings shook early on as Cody Ware slid up the track and caused a chain reaction that led to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Suarez spinning out down the backstretch on lap 30.
Stenhouse came into the race 45 points below the playoff cutline, while Suarez entered Sunday 22nd in points and 63 points off the final spot.
Drivers in desperation mode pushed their strategy to the furthest extreme of the spectrum as Aric Almirola stayed out well beyond the recommended pit window in the second stage in hopes of a caution for rain at the halfway point, but while light moisture came, it wasn’t enough to halt the race and Kurt Busch easily found himself back in the lead.
In reference to Atlanta undergoing a much-needed repave, track officials made their way onto the track to look at a chunk that came out of the pavement on the frontstretch.
A red flag was shown to patch up the damage and lasted just under 20 minutes prior to the final stage beginning.
Kurt held the advantage over his younger brother early in the final run, but the No. 1 car tightened up soon after and Kyle reeled him in. However, dirty air played a big role and Kurt was able to maintain the lead over Kyle before the final green-flag pit cycle.
“Piece of sh*t fu*king aerodynamic race car,” Kyle Busch said over team radio.
Kyle gained the edge on his older brother on the final stop and took the lead by over a second as the laps wound down.
With 23 laps to go, Kurt reeled in his brother coming down the frontstretch with help from his Ganassi teammate in Ross Chastain to retake the lead.
Kyle fought back with five laps to go, but used up everything he had in the No. 18 Toyota and couldn’t complete the pass.
Kurt picked up his first win since bringing the No. 1 car to victory lane during the round of 12 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last season.
Alex Bowman finished fourth to pick up his sixth top-five finish of the season.
Ryan Blaney finished fifth to secure two top-five finishes at Atlanta this season (won the March race).
Kyle Larson finished 18th, the lowest mark since placing 19th at Kansas Motor Speedway.
With Kurt’s win, Tyler Reddick, who finished sixth, moves to the last driver above the cutline with a 96-point advantage. With 12 winners different winners this season, only four drivers can rely on points finishes to make the playoffs as it stands now.
With five races to go before the playoffs, the picture will continue to take shape as the Cup Series heads to New Hampshire for the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 next Sunday.