SPARTA — If you want to see what one of most naturally talented drivers in NASCAR's Sprint Cup series is capable of, put Kyle Busch's back up against the wall and watch his competitive blood boil.
With little room for error hanging over his Chase for the Championship hopes, Busch was at his vintage, aggressive best in Saturday night's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
After driving the dominant car for much of the evening over the Sparta tri-oval, Busch snatched back what was his when he needed it most, passing Joey Logano for the lead with 18 laps to go and working the clean air in those final stages to earn his second win of the year in his seventh start back from injury.
Having missed the first 11 races of the year with a broken leg and foot suffered in an Xfinity Series crash at Daytona, Busch needs to get into the top 30 in points at the end of the 26-race Cup regular season if he is to be eligible for The Chase.
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The man who won the inaugural edition of the Quaker State 400 back in 2011 called upon all of his aptitude at the track to keep his year-end aspirations alive. In what was a fantastic night overall for all the Joe Gibbs Racing team with all four cars finishing in the top five, Busch led 163 of the 267 laps to give himself another triumph to go along with his victory at Sonoma on June 28.
Busch, currently 35th in points, is now 87 points out of the top 30.
"That was awesome, I can't say enough about this team," Busch said. "This team did it for me, keeping me up front. That right there is what we have to do, score as many points as we can."
Nicknamed "Rowdy" with a nod toward his infamous on-track temperament and brilliant determination, Busch defied odds by being back in a Cup car for an 11th-place run at the Coca-Cola 600 on May 24. Though road-course driving is the most painful of tests he could put his healing limbs through, he scored an emotional victory at Sonoma only to endure a 17th-place run at the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona last weekend.
"I have such great respect for what he has done," team owner Joe Gibbs said of Busch. "It's a great sports story for Kyle to come back in four months, win a road race and come back and win again tonight. It says a lot about his determination and his passion to come back from that injury.
"He is mentally tough and physically tough. He's not going to back off, he's going to go for it. He's aggressive."
With a new rules package in place at Kentucky aimed at reducing downforce, those who enjoy driving a looser vehicle and could work car control the best figured to sit near the front much of the night.
Indeed, Busch and defending race winner Brad Keselowski reigned for much of the evening, combining to lead 133 of the first 134 laps. After the caution flag flew for a track-record 11th time with 48 laps to go after Kyle Larson hit the wall in Turn 2, Logano looked poised to win for Penske Racing when he passed Denny Hamlin on the restart and opened up an 0.895 second lead over Busch.
The No. 18 kept closing the gap as the laps ticked down, however, with Busch catching Logano with 22 to go. After racing side-by-side for a few turns around the 11/2-mile track, Busch was finally able to work the inside line and make it stick, registering the 13th lead change of the race.
"A couple of those late restarts I got really tight off the restarts for a few laps and then I could start to get away when those guys got loose," Busch said. "At the end when Logano got away from me, I was kind of tight and loose, but I knew in the long run my car was really good and I was able to find some grooves that helped me.
"I knew this was an opportunity to take a chance on winning a race. I did not want to settle for second, for sure."
Logano held for second to break up the Joe Gibbs procession with Hamlin coming across in third ahead of teammates Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.
Keselowski had the fastest car on the track for much of the night but kept having to play catchup because of some brutal pit stops.
He worked his way up to third with 81 laps to go after restarting in 18th on Lap 156. Keselowski then had a 17-second stop when the caution flag flew on Lap 186 because of debris and had to restart back in 15th. The two-time Quaker State 400 winner fought his way back into fifth place with 50 to go but saw his handling go away a bit in the final stages of the race to come home sixth.
"It's easy to play Saturday evening quarterback, but it just didn't come together for us," Keselowski said. "I thought Kyle and I both had good pretty good cars, we just didn't put it together when it counted."