The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs’ Round of 12 began under the desert sun with the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. After a fairly clean first two stages, the final laps took the playoff drivers into overtime, where Kurt Busch held off Matt DiBenedetto to win at his home track for the first time and advance to the Round of 8.
Points leader Kevin Harvick started on the pole ahead of Kyle Busch. No cars were sent to the rear for failing pre-race inspection, though a notable starter at the back was Chad Finchum, running his first Cup race of the year after missing the Daytona 500.
Chase Elliott, who started third, pushed Harvick ahead before taking the lead himself. Shortly before the competition caution on lap 25, the MBM Motorsports duo of Finchum and Timmy Hill went to the garage for mechanical issues.
Elliott lost four spots on pit road during the competition yellow, which enabled Busch to take the lead when exiting. Their associates William Byron (Elliott’s team-mate) and Christopher Bell (Busch’s Toyota ally) received speeding penalties.
The race resumed on lap 31 with Joe Gibbs Racing‘s Busch and Denny Hamlin on the front row, while Tyler Reddick hit pit road two laps later for a loose right wheel. Hamlin cleared Busch and led for the remainder of the stage.
Logano finished second, followed by Busch, Elliott, Harvick, Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr., and Clint Bowyer. Blaney was the lone non-Round of 12 driver as he was eliminated after the opening round. Those still in the title battle but finished outside the top ten were Aric Almirola (thirteenth), Kurt Busch (sixteenth), and Brad Keselowski (twenty-first).
Kyle Busch won the race off pit road, while Harvick lost four spots. Josh Bilicki was slapped with a too-many-men-over-the-wall infraction.
As the second stage commenced, Logano received a bump from Dillon to the front. However, his lead would disappear after colliding with Busch and Hamlin while running three-wide, producing a tyre rub.
Elliott took the lead on lap 92. On lap 118, green-flag stops began as the leaders headed to the pits, with Busch having an extended stop due to air gun problems. Jimmie Johnson suffered a speeding penalty on his stop.
Byron inherited the lead before pitting, which shuffled the top spot to Chris Buescher before Elliott completed the cycle back in front. Elliott would score the stage win ahead of Hamlin.
Bowman, Truex, Blaney, Dillon, Harvick, Matt DiBenedetto, Bowyer, and Byron also finished in the top ten. Like fellow Ford driver Blaney, DiBenedetto was knocked out after the Round of 16. Busch (eleventh), Almirola (twelfth), Keselowski (thirteenth), Kurt Busch (seventeenth), and Logano (twenty-seventh) were playoff drivers outside the stage points range.
Reddick retired from the race with mechanical troubles between stages, while Elliott lost the lead on pit road.
The final stage began with Hamlin and Bowman in front. Although the former was pushed ahead by Elliott, the three began fighting for the lead before Hamlin finally cleared the Hendrick Motorsports drivers. The first caution that was not a stage break or the competition yellow came out on lap 190 for debris. As Hamlin was the first out of the pits, Dillon received a safety violation penalty after a crewman fell.
Hamlin continued to lead as the green flag waved, though Bowman, Truex, and DiBenedetto gave chase. Dillon returned to pit road after losing his power steering belt. When he rejoined the race, he was eight laps down.
The final wave of stops under green began on lap 230. Hamlin gave up the lead three laps later, and a debris caution for Johnson’s tyre came out shortly after. At the time, Kurt Busch was the only playoff driver on the lead lap. Busch led an oddball group of John Hunter Nemechek, Buescher, Bell, Michael McDowell, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, and Corey LaJoie off pit road as those who had pitted under green took the wave-around.
DiBenedetto was on pit road when the caution came out and beat the pace car when exiting, which enabled him to stay out during the yellow and take the lead ahead of Busch and the pitters under the caution.
The restart took place with 25 laps remaining. Busch on the inside ran side-by-side with DiBenedetto for a lap before clearing him for the lead. The two’s battle was halted when the yellow flag waved on lap 250 for Nemechek, who spun in turn three and slid up the track, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. suffering damage in the contact. Hamlin, Harvick, and others pitted.
What would be the penultimate green flag of the race came with 12 laps to go as Busch led DiBenedetto; a strong restart propelled the former ahead. Behind them, a three-wide battle between Blaney, Bowman, and Newman took place before Hamlin entered the picture. After three laps of racing, Bell tagged the wall but the race stayed green.
On lap 260, Byron spun through the frontstretch and collected LaJoie. After turning laps under yellow, overtime was activated.
Another great restart enabled Busch to pull ahead yet again, and the 2004 champion held off DiBenedetto to punch his ticket to the Round of 8. It is Busch’s thirty-second Cup win, first of the year, and first at Las Vegas. In twenty-one career Cup starts at the 1.5-mile track, his best finish was third in 2005.
“This is what kids dream of when they grow up racing,” Busch began in Victory Lane. “You dream of winning at your hometown track, and for two decades, it’s kicked my butt. And tonight, with this Monster Energy Chevy, I’m in awe.
“I knew the race would come to us. We needed to get to nightfall, and one of those quirky (crew chief) Matt McCall pit sequences finally unfolded. We got lucky. You got to be lucky. And you have to be lucky in any race. But we did it tonight with teamwork.”