Kurt Busch owes Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Ross Chastain a lot of beer.
Busch made a pass of his brother Kyle Busch for the lead with 25 laps to go thanks to Chastain's refusal to change his line in the corner. Chastain was being lapped by Kyle Busch and was running the same high groove that Kyle was running. That occupation of the high line stalled Kyle Busch out and Kurt Busch was able to drive past on the inside for the winning pass.
Kurt Busch was jubilant on the radio after the race and immediately thanked Chastain for the maneuver. It was a textbook example of teamwork to utilize the dirty air that the large spoilers on the back of Cup Series cars create.
Just look at how much Kyle Busch's car slowed down when he got behind Chastain.
"Hell yeah, we beat Kyle," Kurt Busch said in victory lane.
Kurt Busch was leading ahead of the race's final round of green flag pit stops. Kyle Busch pitted a lap before Kurt did and got the lead thanks to the fresher tires and a better pit entry and exit.
But Kurt Busch was able to keep his younger brother in striking distance and capitalized on Chastain's air block.
It was the second time this season that lapped traffic played a role in the race's outcome at Atlanta. Kyle Larson dominated the spring race at Atlanta but his car slowed behind Joey Logano in the waning laps and Ryan Blaney — a teammate of Logano's — passed Larson for the win.
Cars getting lapped play an outsized role at intermediate tracks in NASCAR because of the aerodynamic rules in the Cup Series. Cup cars have just 550 HP and lots of added aerodynamic downforce. That combination leads to turbulent air slowing cars down more than normal because of the increased downforce and lack of acceleration.
It's been a common theme to see drivers get within striking distance of another and be unable to make a pass because of the effects of dirty air. Could Kurt have passed Kyle without Chastain's help? Maybe. Kyle Busch said after the race that Kurt had a better car. But it's also not a guarantee. Kyle Busch looked like he was going to keep his brother at bay if lapped traffic hadn't been up ahead.
Martin Truex Jr. finished third and Alex Bowman was fourth. Blaney finished fifth.
Chip Ganassi Racing's final win?
Is Kurt Busch's victory the last win for Chip Ganassi Racing in NASCAR? It's a plausible question.
Ganassi recently sold his NASCAR operation to Trackhouse Racing effective at the end of the season. The longtime auto racing fixture will still have teams in the IndyCar series and in other racing disciplines but said that Trackhouse made him an offer than he couldn't refuse.
Busch has won exactly one race in each of the last five seasons — there's not a huge reason to think the streak won't stretch to six. And with Chastain winless so far this season and CGR running firmly as a middle-class team in the Cup Series, this may be its victory lane swan song.
Busch is set to be a free agent at the end of the season and his future is up in the air. He could join Daniel Suarez at Trackhouse in 2022 or he could go elsewhere — potentially an expanded 23XI Racing — to continue his Cup Series career. Sunday's race was Busch's 33rd career Cup Series win and locks him into the playoffs for the 10th consecutive season.
Chastain could also be a teammate to Suarez next season. Being a company man was a smart move both in the short term and the long term. There's nothing wrong with showing the ability to help your teammates out when you're trying to position yourself for a job at a multi-car team in 2022.
Does Busch's win change the playoff picture?
The answer to the question above is "not really." Busch entered Sunday's race 14th in the points standings and likely in the playoffs via points. His win now makes for 12 different winners in 21 races and leaves the door slightly open for all 16 playoff spots to be occupied by winners.
That probably won't happen. As it stands right now, Denny Hamlin — still the series points leader — and Kevin Harvick are virtual playoff locks among winless drivers. And the fight for the final provisional playoff spot on points isn't much of one at the moment. Tyler Reddick currently has that spot by nearly 100 points over Chris Buescher.
1. Kurt Busch
2. Kyle Busch
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Alex Bowman
5. Ryan Blaney
6. Tyler Reddick
7. Chase Elliott
8. Christopher Bell
9. Matt DiBenedetto
10. Brad Keselowski
11. Kevin Harvick
12. Austin Dillon
13. Denny Hamlin
14. Bubba Wallace
15. Chase Briscoe
16. Chris Buescher
17. Cole Custer
18. Kyle Larson
19. Joey Logano
20. William Byron
21. Ross Chastain
22. Corey LaJoie
23. Aric Almirola
24. Erik Jones
25. Ryan Preece
26. Anthony Alfredo
27. Michael McDowell
28. Ryan Newman
29. Justin Haley
30. BJ McLeod
31. Garrett Smithley
32. Bayley Currey
33. Cody Ware
34. Josh Bilicki
35. Quin Houff
36. Daniel Suarez
37. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
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