JOLIET, Ill. — With a numerous drivers needing a win to qualify for the first NASCAR Chase for the Truck Series championship, aggression and accidents ruled the final laps.
Kyle Busch navigated it all to leave those hungry drivers disappointed.
Busch overcame a race-record 11 cautions for his 46th career Truck Series victory Friday night. The Sprint Cup star’s second circuit win of the season and fifth trucks win at Chicagoland Speedway meant Daniel Hemric and Timothy Peters earned the final two spots in the eight-driver playoff field based on points.
“It was kind of hectic,” Busch said of the finish. “There was a lot on the line for those guys. I know they were racing for a bunch. I was only worried about us.”
Busch took on four tires and re-started ninth with 42 laps to go before quickly charging to the front just before Johnny Sauter clipped Ben Kennedy to ignite a crash and red flag.
There were four more cautions before Busch blew past Cameron Hayley on an overtime restart and had the lead when the final caution flew on the last lap. Busch led 95 of the 150 laps on the 1.5-mile oval for his 167th win on NASCAR’s top three circuits.
Hemric finished second to earn a spot in the season-ending seven-race playoff.
“We worked our tails off to get to this point,” he said. “We thought if we could figure out a way to get ourselves in we could make a serious run at the championship.”
Hayley as third, followed by Christopher Bell and Sauter.
“We’re not in the Chase,” Hayley said, “but we can’t say we didn’t try.”
The race began with six of the eight Chase spots already determined. John Hunter Nemechek was the last to clinch after he tangled with Cole Custer in the grass before claiming claiming a win in Canada.
Top-seeded William Byron, 2015 champion Matt Crafton, Kennedy, Sauter and Bell also were safely in.
Custer, who announced earlier Friday that he would move to the Xfinity Series next season with Stewart-Haas Racing, was penalized for speeding on pit road with 84 laps left. He still got into the top 10 late before being involved in a wreck that caused a tire rub. He finished 10th.
“It’s the best truck I ever brought to a mile-and-a-half, so I’m really happy with that,” Custer said. “I made a mistake and we put ourselves in a bad spot.”
Spencer Gallagher earned his first pole and John Wes Townley joined him on the front row. It rekindled memories of their on-track wrestling and boxing match after an incident at Gateway Motorsports Park in June that included takedowns and punches to the face.
But mistakes kept both out of the Chase, with Townley sparking an accident that caused a late caution and Gallagher finishing sixth.
Peters qualified for the Chase by finishing eighth despite hitting the wall and having a right-front tire go down on the 67th lap.
Byron, a five-time winner who drives for Busch’s team, scraped the outside wall after four laps and headed to the garage. He returned 40 laps later only to again crash and finished 30th.
“That was a bummer to see,” Busch said. “Hopefully, they can get back on their horse next week.”
Kennedy’s car was destroyed and damaged the SAFER barrier, causing a 14-minute delay. He was treated and released from the infield care center.
Matt Tifft had to pit early with a loose wheel and finished 12th in his first race since undergoing surgery to remove a non-cancerous brain tumor. Tifft received applause when he was introduced in the pre-race driver meeting.