FORT WORTH — The rain fell, the sparks flew and a Saturday night hunt bled into Sunday morning.
In the end, fresher tires made the difference and Kyle Busch won the weather-delayed Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. With his second win of the season, the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion clinched a berth in this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff.
Martin Truex Jr. had a dominant car but did not pit for new tires under caution after Greg Biffle crashed on Lap 287 of the 334-lap race.
On the ensuing restart, Truex kept the lead but Austin Dillon — the other driver who stayed out on worn tires — faded quickly. The faster Denny Hamlin squeezed inside of Dillon in Turn 2, pushing him up the track and into the path of Jimmie Johnson. A bump from Johnson sent Dillon into the wall for what became a 13-car crash.
Stuck in his strategy with the race winding down, Truex again elected to not pit. Six drivers joined him, and Busch restarted on the front row with Truex. Chase Elliott in eighth was the first driver with new tires.
The final restart came on Lap 301, and Busch pulled ahead of Truex in Turn 4 of that circuit around the 1 1/2-mile oval. Without the benefit of undisturbed air on the nose of his No. 78 Toyota, Truex faded to a sixth-place finish.
“If I could just get out in front of him, I knew I could protect the rest of the race,” Busch said. “I just had to get up on his door. He chose the inside and the inside has been winning the race all night long, but this time, on the last restart, [the outside] finally prevailed for us.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed Joey Logano with nine laps to go and finished second, 3.9 seconds behind Busch’s No. 18 Toyota. Logano, Johnson and Elliott rounded out the top five. Truex was followed across the line by top-10 finishers Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick.
“We just ran out of tires,” Truex said. “Made it through [Turns] 1 and 2 side by side, got to 3 and just didn’t have the grip.
“Can’t say enough about the guys for the race car they brought here and the weekend we had. It hurts. It’s happened a few times to me here. Hurts a little bit, but we’ll get over it and we’ll move on and we’ll take the positives out of tonight.”
Edwards, Kyle Busch’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, was the only driver to keep up with Truex for most of the night. But Edwards’ No. 19 Toyota had a loose wheel when he restarted second on Lap 221. He returned to the pits and went nearly two laps down.
Another Gibbs Camry fell victim when Matt Kenseth’s crew failed to get a wheel tight on Lap 278. Kenseth pitted from third place and was sentenced to an 11th-place finish.
Elliott, the rookie son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, enjoyed the best finish of his career. His previous best was sixth two races ago at Fontana, California. He has four top-10 finishes in seven events this season in the No. 24 Chevrolet.
Truex led a race-high 141 laps, Edwards led 124 and Kyle Busch 34. The finishes by Earnhardt and Logano put Chevy and Ford, respectively, in the top three with Toyota.
Kyle Busch’s 36th career win is his second in Fort Worth, after winning the same race in 2013. He also won the Xfinity Series race at TMS on Friday and now has 13 NASCAR national series victories in Denton County — eight in Xfinity and three in the Camping World Truck Series.
With Kyle Busch’s wins in the Cup and truck races last week at Martinsville, he has won four consecutive national series events.
“Everybody back at the shop has been building great race cars; they’ve been doing a great job for us. The crew chiefs [at JGR] have been really working together,” he said. “I think the magic is Kyle Busch, but that’s just me. Right, Joe?”
Kyle Busch moved to the top of the Sprint Cup standings. Johnson is six points back in second, and Harvick dropped from first to third. Johnson is the only other driver with two wins.
The race was scheduled to start at 6:46 p.m., but afternoon showers caused a delay of nearly two hours. The race started under caution at 8:35 p.m. and went green four laps later. With darkness falling, brilliant sparks lit the asphalt when the cars hit the bumps between Turns 1 and 2. The checkered flag flew at 12:12 a.m.
Paul Menard’s team was flying a “Don’t tread on me” Gadsden flag from its pit box, but the No. 27 Chevrolet felt the wrath of the authorities on Lap 125. NASCAR officials ordered Menard to the pits after they determined his Richard Childress Racing crew had illegally manipulated the body of the car. After a quick fix to the right rear wheel well, Menard returned to the track for a 26th-place finish, four laps down.
MATT CRIDER can be reached at 940-566-6906.