BROOKLYN, Mich. – Starting 24th in a backup car, Kurt Busch fought his way to the front of the field through intermittent rain showers and won Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway when a deluge halted the race after 138 of a scheduled 200 laps.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was second when NASCAR red-flagged the event for the fourth time. Martin Truex Jr. was credited with third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.
The victory was Busch’s second of the season. He won for the third time at Michigan and for the 27th time in his career.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to know what we went through, paced ourselves, and found the lead toward the latter part of the race when the rain came in,” Busch said in Victory Lane.
“You know what’s more special about this? Winning in Chevrolet’s backyard. That’s what’s most important about winning in Michigan, so thanks to Chevrolet.”
That his team had put in extra hours to ready a backup car after Busch hit the wall in
Friday’s opening practice was not lost on the winning driver.
“Yeah, you have to get down and dirty,” Busch said. “You have to really roll-up your sleeves, get your elbows dirty, and put the work into it. And (crew chief) Tony Gibson makes these guys work a little extra hard.
“I always say thanks. I’m always there early with them. And it’s a great team chemistry feel.”
Busch grabbed the lead for the first time on Lap 133 when Kyle Larson’s gas-mileage gamble came up short and the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet was forced to pit road for fuel just as a storm cell was advancing toward the speedway.
Busch had pushed Larson to the lead after a restart on Lap 130, but Larson hadn’t gotten fuel since Lap 88, and crew chief Chris Heroy was gambling that the rain would arrive before Larson ran out of gas. As it turned out, the rain came three laps too late for Heroy’s strategy to bear fruit.
The heavy thunderstorm arrived on Lap 136, forcing NASCAR to throw a caution and then to red-flag the race for the fourth time two laps later, with Busch out.
Busch also got an unintended assist from teammate Kevin Harvick, who led 63 laps in the race’s dominant car.
Harvick held a lead of roughly four seconds when he brought his No. 4 Chevrolet to pit road on Lap 120, but the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion had to return to his pit stall two laps later because of a flat right front tire. Harvick lost two laps in the process and was 29th when NASCAR called the race shortly after 6 p.m.
Earnhardt was on the inside beside Larson for the final restart, but the push from Busch propelled Larson to his short-lived lead, and Busch followed to the outside of Earnhardt’s car.
“When it came to the restarts, we didn’t take off as well as the 41,” Earnhardt said. “We saw the same thing at Charlotte, the 78 (Truex) and the 41 take off real good.
“We were just kind of tight waiting on the front to work, don’t have the good speed that they have the first three or four laps, and that was the difference today, and the 4 (Harvick) having the trouble he had. He had the field covered.”
If fortune favored Kurt Busch on Sunday, the same can’t be said for brother Kyle Busch, whose car slipped on damp asphalt in Turn 3 and shot into the outside wall to bring out the third caution on Lap 52. In what may be the decisive blow to his prospects of making the Chase after missing the first 11 races because of injuries sustained at Daytona in February, Busch finished 43rd.