Kyle Busch stormed past Chase Elliott on the next-to-last lap Sunday at Dover International Speedway, posting his fourth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the year as the Playoffs field was chopped from 16 to 12 drivers.
Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota led four times for 30 laps in the Apache Warrior 400, the last event in the three-race Round of 16. His third Dover win was the 42nd victory in his premier-series career.
Elliott led a race-high 138 laps, seeking a breakthrough victory in his 70th premier series start. But his Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet faded down the stretch, ending up .357 seconds behind Busch as the runner-up.
“I’m so sorry, guys,” Elliott told his No. 24 crew on the cool-down lap. “So sorry. Dadgum it.”
Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson rounded out a top-five sweep by postseason-eligible drivers.
Larson led 137 laps and won the race’s second stage. He lost the lead during the caution period before the final stage, dropping to fifth by failing to maintain his speed under the yellow flag. Larson’s Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet sputtered on the backstretch, failing to re-fire after he shut the engine off in an effort to conserve fuel.
Truex, Larson, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski had already clinched spots in the Round of 12 by virtue of race wins or points accrued earlier in the three-race phase. All four led multiple laps Sunday at Dover.
Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Elliott, Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. locked up the eight open spots for the Round of 12.
Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne failed to advance to the next round of the playoffs. All four finished outside of the top 10 on Sunday, leaving them as the bottom four drivers from the original postseason field of 16.
Kurt Busch was further hampered by a pit-road commitment line violation on a Lap 332 stop, pushing him to 24th in the running order, three laps down. He ended up last in the playoffs standings after the opening round.
An early turning point came before the completion of the race’s first stage on Lap 86. Jeffrey Earnhardt’s spin into the pit-entrance sand barrels caused the event’s first caution period — and later a red flag for clean-up — during the first exchange of pit stops. That left the field shuffled, with five drivers who had yet to pit on a lap by themselves.
Among that fortunate five was Stenhouse, who held on to finish fourth in the first stage, adding seven points to his total. That stage finish proved crucial in his ability to advance as he edged Newman by just two points to advance to the next round.
The series’ next race is scheduled for Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM) at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Bank of America 500 will open the Round of 12, the next three-race phase in the Monster Energy Series Playoffs.