Kurt Busch became the first NASCAR Cup Series driver to book his spot in the next round of the Playoffs with victory in overtime at Las Vegas.
Busch in the #1 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet had not followed the leading pack, headed by Denny Hamlin, in pitting midway through the final stage, and benefited when Jimmie Johnson’s car shed its right rear Goodyear tyre, bringing out the caution flags.
While Hamlin and the rest of the leading gaggle, including Alex Bowman who undercut Hamlin during these stops by pitting on lap 232, dropped to a lap down, Busch – the sole driver in Playoff contention who did not pit – was able to take his stop and restart in second place, behind Wood Brothers Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto.
Busch took the lap 243 restart on the inside line and muscled past the #21 of DiBenedetto to take the lead, before a John Hunter Nemechek spin seven laps later once again neutralised the race on the 1.5-mile oval circuit.
Hamlin, who was running in 11th place then led a charge to pitroad of those who had lost out under the Johnson caution, with the likes of Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr, Alex Bowman, and Chase Elliott followed the #11 Joe Gibbs Toyota for fresh rubber.
Bowman and Hamlin quickly began to carve through the field, before a final caution for William Byron’s spin after Christopher Bell’s car suffered a tyre failure. This sent the race into overtime, with none of the leaders opting to pit ahead of the two-lap shootout.
Busch took the restart ahead of DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney, Bowman and Hamlin, and quickly dropped the chasing pack, whilst Hamlin tried to fight his way past Blaney.
Busch, who took 16th and 17th respectively in stages one and two, was untroubled throughout the overtime period, allowing the 2004 Cup champion to record his first win of 2020, 33rd of his career, first since Kentucky in July 2019, and ensure his place in the Round of 8 of the Playoffs.
DiBenedetto equalled his best result of the season with second in his Ford, which also came at Las Vegas in February, ahead of stage two winner Hamlin, who scored his first top 10 finish since the Daytona road course race.
Playoff hopefuls Truex Jr, Bowman and reigning champion Kyle Busch took fourth, fifth and sixth respectively, with the already eliminated Ryan Blaney the lead finisher for Team Penske in seventh.
Erik Jones followed up third last time out at Bristol with eighth for JGR, ahead of Chris Buescher and Harvick – who recorded his 25th top 10 result of 2020 in an otherwise quiet afternoon for the polesitter in his #4 machine.
Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson was hit with a pitlane speeding penalty midway through the 268-lapper, but fought back well to claim 11th, ahead of Penske duo Brad Keselowski (13th) and Joey Logano (14th). Logano had been a lap down for a majority of the race following lap 88 contact with Kyle Busch left the #22 with minor damage.
Elliott had looked comfortable out in front during periods of stage one, which the #9 Hendrick driver claimed ahead of Hamlin, but struggled in the latter stages, coming home 22nd.
Austin Dillon, who had been the star of the Playoffs with a strong Round of 16 looked set to continue his good form in his #3 Richard Childress machine, banking a pair of sixth place finishes in the two 80-lap segments.
However, a suspected piece of debris damaged belts inside the engine of his Camaro, which led to a power steering failure, and left the #3 seven laps down in 32nd position at the flag.
NASCAR Las Vegas race results – 268 laps
Pos Driver Team Gap
1 Kurt Busch Chip Ganassi Racing –
2 Matt DiBenedetto Wood Brothers Racing s
3 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing s
4 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing s
5 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports s
6 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing s
7 Ryan Blaney Team Penske s
8 Erik Jones Joe Gibbs Racing s
9 Chris Buescher Roush Fenway Racing s
10 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing s
11 Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Motorsports s
12 Clint Bowyer Stewart-Haas Racing s
13 Brad Keselowski Team Penske s
14 Joey Logano Team Penske s
15 Ryan Newman Roush Fenway Racing s
16 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing s
17 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing s
18 Matt Kenseth Chip Ganassi Racing s
19 Ryan Preece JTG Daugherty Racing s
20 John Hunter Nemechek Front Row Motorsports s
21 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports s
22 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports s
23 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing s
24 Christopher Bell Leavine Family Racing s
25 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports s
26 Ty Dillon Germain Racing 1 Lap
27 Corey LaJoie Go FAS Racing 1 Lap
28 Darrell Wallace Jr. Richard Petty Motorsports 2 Laps
29 Daniel Suarez Gaunt Brothers Racing 3 Laps
30 Brennan Poole Premium Motorsports 3 Laps
31 Gray Gaulding Rick Ware Racing 6 Laps
32 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing 7 Laps
33 J.J. Yeley Spire Motorsports 7 Laps
34 Quin Houff StarCom Racing 9 Laps
35 Joey Gase Petty Ware Racing 12 Laps
36 Josh Bilicki Rick Ware Racing Suspension
37 Timmy Hill MBM Motorsports Rear end
38 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Accident
39 Chad Finchum MBM Motorsports Overheating