Hampton, GA – Kyle Busch secured a position in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship after winning his fourth race of the season on Sunday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Busch grabbed the lead for the first time with 36 laps remaining when he was the quickest off of pit road during a caution. Martin Truex Jr. challenged Busch for the top spot after the last restart with 21 laps left, but Busch pulled away and was untouchable from there.
Early in the race, Busch dealt with an ill-handling car before his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments on it.
"I wasn't happy with the race car at the beginning of the race, but (crew chief) Dave (Rogers) and the guys made some really good calls and got us great adjustments to get us back up front. This car wasn't good at the start, but it was good at the end."
Busch claimed his 28th career Sprint Cup win, including his second at Atlanta. He won here came in March 2008. Last year, Busch failed to make it into the Chase by just three points. He'll now be in the playoffs for the sixth time.
"Heck of a lot different than 365 days ago, I'll tell you that," he said.
Busch, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick joined Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Matt Kenseth as those drivers who have clinched a spot in the Chase. Kenseth leads all drivers with five victories, while Johnson and Busch have four wins each.
The remainder of the 12-driver field for the playoffs will be decided in next Saturday night's race at Richmond.
Joey Logano passed Truex with four laps remaining but could not catch Busch in time. Busch beat him to the finish line by 0.7 seconds. One-third of the way into the race, Logano experienced a vibration and had to pit out of sequence. He went on to lead the most laps with 78.
"When there's a restart after another restart, and you don't have a car that's very good on the first five, six laps of a run, it didn't give me the greatest opportunity there," Logano said. "I was catching (Busch) the last few laps, just needed five, six more laps to get him, maybe less."
Logano moved up two spots in the point standings to eighth. He won his first race of the season and with Penske Racing two weeks ago at Michigan.
Truex finished third while driving with a cast on his right wrist after he fractured it during an accident in last weekend's race at Bristol.
"It was pretty tough there for a while, just hanging on to the car with my wrist and all that," Truex said. "It hurt pretty bad there for a while, but I'm just glad we were able to put together a decent night."
Kurt Busch jumped from 12th to 10th in points following his fourth-place run. Busch is just six points ahead of 11th-place Jeff Gordon, who finished sixth. Both drivers have yet to win a race this season.
"We'll take the momentum on to Richmond and see what we can do," Gordon said.
Ryan Newman took the fifth spot. Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Harvick and Brian Vickers completed the top-10. Vickers bounced back from a spin he had after a restart on lap 294. Edwards finished 18th after leading 68 laps. Kenseth was 12th.
Brad Keselowski, the defending Sprint Cup champion, took a hit in his bid to make the Chase after he finished 35th. Keselowski was leading late in the race when he blew two of his cylinders. His engine expired with less than 20 laps to go.
"There's just some things you can't control," said Keselowski, who led 31 laps before his motor quit. "It just broke. I guess you can look at the positives. We ran well and were leading the race when the engine broke. We just didn't put all of the pieces together."
Keselowski dropped from 11th to 15th in points. The Penske driver has not won a race this season. He is 28 points behind Kurt Busch.
"I feel like we'll be really strong next week (at Richmond), but obviously, we don't dictate our own fate," he said.
Bowyer also suffered engine failure when he was in the lead on lap 193. He locked up his spot in the Chase at Bristol.
"It certainly sucks," said Bowyer, who finished 39th. "Everybody has engine issues. We're pushing hard for the Chase and trying to win a championship ... It was ours to lose, and unfortunately, we found a way to lose."
Right now, Kasey Kahne and Truex hold the wild card positions.
After a restart on lap 31, Kahne was involved in an accident with Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate and current points leader, as well as Jeff Burton and Mark Martin. Kahne damaged his radiator and had to spend more than 30 laps in the garage for repairs. He wound up finishing 36th, which dropped him from eighth to 12th in points.
Johnson pitted numerous times for repairs throughout the race. The five-time series champion finished four laps behind in 28th. Johnson placed 40th at Michigan and 36th at Bristol prior to Atlanta. He holds a 28-point lead over Bowyer.