Indianapolis — Kyle Busch needed a little help to return to victory lane Saturday.
First, he inherited the lead when the leaders crashed with eight laps to go. Then, on the final restart, he got the push he needed from Justin Allgaier’s teammate.
Busch took advantage by jumping in front of Allgaier, holding him off for the final four laps to claim the Indiana 250 by 0.132 seconds and extend his own record of career Xfinity Series wins to 96.
“Anybody that was behind you, you had to rely on them,” Busch said. “Jeb (Burton) absolutely did a really good job at the restart and it helped us, it propelled us to victory.”
For Busch, this was no typical Indianapolis weekend.
While he captured the pole in the morning, led the most laps and earned his fourth win in this race, Busch wasn’t the dominant force he’s been in previous years. He didn’t win the first or second stages, battled through worn tires and thought his chance for victory might vanish because of handling issues in traffic.
But his fortunes turned when points leader Tyler Reddick attempted to make an outside pass of race leader Christopher Bell coming through the second turn. The cars touched and both hit the outside wall hard enough to bring out a red flag – and put Busch back in the lead.
“I’m fine,” Bell said after he and Reddick were checked at the infield medical center and released. “Out of all the NASCAR crashes I’ve been in that definitely takes the cake. I don’t exactly know what happened, I guess both of us had our foots down going into 2.”
It was all Busch needed.
When the race restarted Busch chose the inside lane and Burton, driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, was close enough to the No. 18 Toyota to keep Busch in front and force Allgaier to spend the final four laps trying to chase. Noah Gragson, another teammate of Allgaier, finished third in the No. 9 Chevy, more than two seconds behind Busch. Burton was fourth.
“Kyle’s great, especially on restarts,” Allgaier said. “That’s what sets him apart.”
So instead of celebrating back-to-back wins at Indy, Allgaier settled for his fourth runner-up finish this season.
And now after racing to his 37th from the pole, Busch can focus on helping Joe Gibbs Racing capture the Brickyard 400 for a sweep of NASCAR’s four biggest races – something that’s never been done in the same season.
“He (Allgaier) never got close enough to make a move out so it played right into our hands at the end,” Busch said. “Two laps more and he probably would have gotten us.”
Johnson seeks playoff spot
Jimmie Johnson wants to keep things simple this weekend.
Win and he’s back in the playoffs. Anything else complicates his strategy.
The seven-time NASCAR champion heads into Sunday’s regular-season finale two spots and 18 points out of the 16-car playoff, putting him in danger of sitting it out for the first time.
“Of course we’ll be aware (of the points), of course I’ll be fed information,” Johnson said after Saturday’s first Brickyard 400 practice ended. “But we’ve only discussed how fast we’re going to be and how aggressive we’re going to be to win the race and not have to worry about points.”
Johnson couldn’t pick a better venue to make this last-ditch run.
He’s one of five drivers with four wins on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval and if he reaches victory lane again Sunday, Johnson would clinch a playoff spot and join Jeff Gordon as the only other five-time winner. Former Formula One star Michael Schumacher also won five times on Indy’s road course.
But this has not been the kind of season Johnson envisioned.
After a 17-month victory drought and a first-round playoff exit last season, Hendrick Motorsports split up the Cup’s longest running and most successful pairing by moving Johnson’s longtime crew chief Chad Knaus to William Byron’s team. Kevin Meendering, Knaus’ replacement, lasted 21 races on the pit box as the struggles continued.
In July, Cliff Daniels replaced Meendering but little changed.
Aside from an exhibition race victory at Daytona in February, Johnson hasn’t won since Dover on June 4, 2017. He hasn’t finished in the top 10 since Daytona on July 7 and has finished 30th or worse three times in the last seven races.
But Johnson comes to Indy confident and hopeful.
He finished 19th at Bristol and 16th last week at Darlington, picking up eight points on Danny Suarez and Ryan Newman, who are tied for 16th, despite being hindered by a crash in the final stage.
“We’ve had plenty of bad luck, that’s for sure,” Johnson said.
Maybe Indy will help him turn it around.
Leclerc claims Italian GP pole
A mess. An absurdity. Dangerous. Idiots. These were just some of the terms were used to describe the farcical end to qualifying for the Italian Grand Prix.
Charles Leclerc rose above it all to secure a second straight pole position and give Ferrari encouragement it can end a nine-year wait for success at its home Formula One race.
Only Leclerc and Carlos Sainz crossed the line in time to set a timed lap in Q3. The other eight drivers were caught short jostling for position to try to ensure they had a car in front of them to catch a slipstream, with tow worth several tenths of a second at the high-speed Monza track.
“What a mess. Pole position anyway, guys. Sorry for the mess in the last lap,” Leclerc said on team radio at the end of qualifying.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was even more critical.
“That was worse than a junior formula,” Wolff said. “The problem was everyone wants a slipstream and nobody wants to go first … and then everyone looks like idiots.”
It is being investigated by motorsport governing body the FIA, and Wolff added later: “None of us has ever seen such an absurdity.”
Leclerc, who claimed his first F1 victory last weekend at the Belgian GP, was 0.039 seconds ahead of championship leader Lewis Hamilton and 0.047 clear of Valtteri Bottas, much to the delight of the passionate Ferrari tifosi.
It was Leclerc’s fourth pole position in only his second season in F1.