Kurt beat Kyle to the finish line by 0.076 of a second
The next time Kentucky Speedway celebrates a milestone anniversary, the finish of the 2019 Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart will be a no-brainer to include in any highlight reel.
A late caution pushed Saturday's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race into overtime and set up a furious two-lap dash between two brothers who traded paint and produced the closest finish in race history.
In the end, Kurt Busch beat Kyle Busch to the finish line by 0.076 of a second.
After taking the checkered flag, Kurt Busch performed a celebratory burnout on the frontstretch as his crew jogged over from pit road. The driver climbed out of his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, chugged an energy drink and exclaimed for all to hear, "Hell, yeah! Hell, yeah!"
"What a battle with my little brother," he said later. "To race him side-by-side, to try to play the chess game at 180 miles per hour on the side draft. We were wide open through Turns 1 and 2. We were trying to go wide open through (Turns) 3 and 4…. As we drove down into Turn 3 on the last lap, I just stared straight as his door. I could see the No. 18 to my left and I never lifted (off the gas) until I heard him lift. Then I was like, 'Wait a minute, I've still got to miss the wall.'
"He gave me just enough room, as a true racer would, or as my little brother would. But I'm really proud of the way we finished this race, finishing 1-2. We put on a hell of a show. One of those old-school type races where it's two guys duking it out. Just happened to be brothers. Different manufacturers. This one, I can't wait to go watch the video of and tell people about it and show the sport of NASCAR."
The victory represented several firsts - for Busch, crew chief Matt McCall and Chevrolet.
Neither had won a Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway. It also was Busch's first victory this season, his first with Chip Ganassi Racing, and McCall's first as a crew chief in the Cup Series.
"Badass," was McCall's initial summation of the Busch brothers' battle. "That's the easiest way to put it. Two racers getting after it, and the ol' wheel man figured it out."
Joe Gibbs Racing placed three of its four cars in the top five, led by Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Toyota. Erik Jones finished third in the No. 20 Toyota and Denny Hamlin finished fifth in the No. 11 Toyota. Kurt Busch's teammate, Kyle Larson, finished fourth in the No. 42 Chevrolet.
"I'm glad it was a thriller," said Kyle Busch, a two-time Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart winner and four-time winner in the Cup Series this season. "Just unfortunately we were on the wrong end of the deal. Congratulations to Kurt and Chip and (sponsor) Monster and all the guys over there.
"It's obviously cool to put on great races and great finishes, and (I've) been a part of a lot of them and not very many - in fact, none with my brother like that. So that was a first."
Saturday’s race stretched two laps past its scheduled distance after Bubba Wallace spun with six laps remaining to bring out a caution.
Joey Logano led and chose the outside lane on the restart. To the inside of his No. 22 Team Penske Ford was Kyle Busch.
Lined up behind them were Jones and Kurt Busch.
The restart mirrored others throughout the race - furious racing with three- and sometimes four-wide racing in the turns.
"The caution came out at the wrong time. It happens," said Logano, who finished seventh. "You try to think through your notebook on how to have a good restart. I thought I was going to have a decent one but I got stopped on the left rear there when Kyle (Busch) got into me. That is what it is. That stopped all my momentum. (Kurt Busch) had a huge run and I didn't have anywhere to go. I couldn't block them all. I tried to stop (Kyle Busch) on his right rear by side-drafting. I saw the 1 (of Kurt Busch) coming and felt like if I could get in front of him that we were so low at the time if I blocked the 1 he would just go to the middle and pass me. I felt like I couldn't stop the 1. I was in a bad spot. Once I got stopped on the left rear on the restart I was a sitting duck and they just went by me on both sides."
A new rules package. A different right-side tire from Goodyear. The ample application of traction compound in the turns. NASCAR's best drivers pushing their cars and their skills to the limits because they wanted to win in the worst way.
Added up, those variables produced a classic reminiscent of the speedway's most famous finish between Greg Biffle and Todd Bodine in a 2002 Xfinity Series race.
"Yeah, it was a great race," Logano said. "It was a lot of fun. You had strategy and cautions and it was probably the best Kentucky race we have ever had. If I was a race fan, I would say that was a cool finish. I am a little too close to the fire to say it was a cool finish right now."
Earlier in the final stage, Clint Bowyer and the Busch brothers treated fans to a three-car battle for the lead that persisted for several laps. Kurt Busch continually challenged Bowyer for the lead. As that happened, Kyle Busch entered the fray.
Kurt Busch finally powered past Bowyer on Lap 205. Bowyer pitted one lap later and Kurt Busch ducked onto pit road a handful of laps later, handing the lead to his brother. Kyle Busch then pitted from the lead on Lap 226. In the mix throughout was Logano, who pitted at the same time as Kyle Busch.
The Busch brothers swept the first two stages of Saturday's race.
Seven cars stayed on the track at the conclusion of Stage 1 while the leaders made pit stops. Of the seven, only Alex Bowman had won a race this season.
Kyle Busch was eighth on the restart and steadily improved his position. By Lap 104, he had Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in his sights and passed the driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing for the lead at the start/finish line. Stenhouse pitted 11 laps later.
After taking the lead, Kyle Busch extended his advantage over the second place car to about eight seconds after passing Stenhouse. He maintained the lead through a cycle of green-flag pit stops and easily earned his sixth stage win of the season.
Busch gave up the lead under caution before the start of Stage 3 but did not lose many spots because he took only fuel on his pit stop. He led 72 laps overall Saturday.
Kurt Busch qualified fourth and vaulted to the lead with a fuel-only pit stop in Stage 1 and led the final 28 laps for his first stage victory this season. He led 41 laps overall.
Pole-winner Daniel Suarez led the first 50 laps and 52 overall Saturday. He finished eighth.
"It was an eventful night, for sure," Suarez said. "We had a fast race car but we got a bit tight. I feel like we made the car better, but we never got the track position back. We had a tire going down and then I was speeding coming to pit road because I was wheel hopping because of the tire. It was one problem after another. We were fast enough to overcome that but not enough to get a better finish."
Martin Truex Jr., who entered Saturday as the two-time defending race winner, finished 19th in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Three-time Quaker State 400 winner Brad Keselowski led three laps but finished 20th in the No. 2 Team Penske Ford.
In total, there were 15 lead changes among 10 drivers and the race was slowed by five cautions for incidents on the track. Saturday's finish put an exclamation point on Kentucky Speedway's tripleheader race weekend and its 20th season of racing.
It was a blur for McCall.
"It worked out at the end," he said. "I knew we had a car capable and Kurt could obviously get it done. When the caution came out, the seas parted and the Lord was with us."