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Two-Time Brickyard Champ Busch Breaks Through, Earns Playoff Spot with Win

When Kyle Busch took the checkered flag July 30 at Pocono Raceway, he was conspicuously quiet for a guy who just ended a career-long 36-race winless streak in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

There were no shouts of joy. No whoops of victory. Just momentary silence.

“Relief,” Busch said. “It was finally. It was just like, I didn’t really know if it was over yet, I guess. I was just waiting for that moment. Something was going to happen.”

It’s hard to blame Busch for his subdued reaction despite qualifying for the NASCAR Playoffs with his first victory in the No. 18 Toyota fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing since winning the 2016 Big Machine Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

He led 1,040 laps this season entering the Overton’s 400 at Pocono, second only to Harry Gant in NASCAR history for the most laps led in a year without a victory. Busch drove the dominant car at a handful of races this season, only to end the race in despair.

One of those events was the Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 on July 23 at IMS. Busch won the pole and led 87 of the first 110 laps before Martin Truex Jr. pushed up the track in Turn 1 on a Lap 111 restart and hit Busch, sending both dominant cars spinning into the SAFER Barrier and ending their respective races.

Busch never showed visible panic after his string of heartbreaking results this year. But simple math and a look at the calendar proved any tension behind the scenes was justified.

There were only six races to go in the regular season entering Pocono before the Playoffs started, and 13 of the 16 spots in the postseason already were reserved for drivers who had earned at least one victory, including surprise Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne.

The road race at Watkins Glen often springs a winner with extensive road racing experience, such as AJ Allmendinger, so there was a very real chance Busch could enter the final four races before the Playoffs with just two available spots.

Busch probably would have scored enough points to qualify for the postseason if there weren’t 16 different winners after the regular-season finale Sept. 9 in Richmond, but stranger things have happened in this ultra-competitive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

Now, in the stroke of one 400-mile drive in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, Busch has transformed from the most conspicuous absentee from the Playoffs to a contender to race for the championship in the season finale Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He is seventh in the Playoff standings after the Pocono victory.

“We normally tend to fly under the radar most times,” Busch said. “But it's not one that I need to go out and beat our chest to say that we should be in the conversations. That's for other people to decide.

“I think our stats and our runs and our speed shows for itself. Those guys have just been able to capitalize on race victories. That's what we haven't been able to capitalize on.

“It kind of goes every once in a while that we're all not all that flashy. When our backs are against the wall, I would say we haven't necessarily had that situation, thankfully, so we haven't had to go out there and win, I mean in those Playoff instances, like some of these other teams have. The 4 (Kevin Harvick) has been able to do it, the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.), a couple other guys.

“We just methodically go about our races; that's our mentality. When it works for us, we go to Victory Lane. That’s how we get to Homestead.”

2018 Brickyard renewals: Race fans can renew their tickets now for the 2018 Big Machine Brickyard 400 and Lilly Diabetes 250 – at 2017 prices – as the annual NASCAR race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway enters an exciting new era next year.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race will move to the cooler temperatures of Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018, with NASCAR XFINITY Series action also taking place during the race weekend. The Big Machine Brickyard 400 will serve as the final race of the regular season, determine the regular-season champion and set the field for the NASCAR Playoffs, which begin the following weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Fans are encouraged to renew or upgrade their Big Machine Brickyard 400 event weekend tickets at www.ims.com/renew. The renewal window will continue through Monday, Aug. 7.

These will be the best prices of the year, only available during the renewal window. Prices will increase when tickets go on sale.

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