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Kyle Busch dominates for second Sprint Cup victory

SPARTA, Ky. — Kyle Busch dominated at Kentucky Speedway, leading 163 of the 267 laps to win the Quaker State 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Saturday for his second victory of the season.

The Las Vegas native climbed two spots in the championship standings from 37th to 35th, 87 points behind 30th-place driver Cole Whitt.

Busch has to be in the top 30 by the end of the 26-race regular season for his two wins to get him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He has eight more races to make up the deficit.

Joey Logano finished second and Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates — Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth — finished third, fourth and fifth to give JGR Toyotas four spots in the top five.

Busch, Hamlin and Edwards waged a three-way battle for the lead after a lap 208 caution that was won by Hamlin. Busch also lost second to Logano.

Logano moved to the front on a restart after the 11th and final caution of the race with 47 laps to go. Busch got back up to second and battled Logano for the lead with 20 laps to go. After racing back and forth for a few laps, Busch was able to retake the top spot for good.

Brad Keselowski finished sixth despite sensing a possible tire issue late in the race. Jeff Gordon placed seventh and Kevin Harvick was eighth. Kurt Busch finished behind Johnson in 10th.

The 11 yellow flags resulted in a track record, surpassing the previous record high of 10 at Kentucky Speedway.

NASCAR debuted a new track-specific aerodynamic package for the race, designed to decrease downforce with the goal of improving the on-track product.

The changes came, at least in part, as a result of suggestions made by a newly formed drivers council.

The Kentucky page included a shorter spoiler height of 3½ inches (down from 6 inches), a splitter extension panel — or radiator pan — of 25 inches (down from 38) and a decrease of 1¾ inches in splitter overhang.

“I know we’ve said it many times, and certainly want to reinforce it here, that we’re committed to putting on the best racing on the track. I’m certainly pleased that it’s been evident from, really, every conversation we’ve had with our industry that they feel the same way,” NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said.

Sprint Cup competitors had limited time to get used to the new aerodynamic package. NASCAR scheduled a four-hour test Wednesday and extra practice time Thursday and Friday. Wednesday’s session was canceled because of rain, as was the Sprint Cup practice Thursday.

Teams got on the track for 50 minutes of practice Friday before rain set in again. NASCAR then made the call to cancel qualifying hours before it was scheduled to begin, deciding that if the track was dry well before the evening’s scheduled Xfinity Series race, that time would best be used for Sprint Cup practice to give teams additional opportunities to adjust to the new rules package.

Keselowski combined with Busch to lead all but one lap in the first half of the race. Keselowski took the lead at the start, but a four-tire strategy during a lap 30 competition caution sent Keselowski to 11th for the restart. Busch restarted up front with Hamlin and Logano in second and third.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had problems during the first half. Johnson’s handling issues were bad enough to send him down pit road twice during the lap 82 caution. Earnhardt had brake problems throughout the race, causing a caution on lap 135, and then he made contact with Danica Patrick just past lap 200 to bring out another yellow.

Like Hamlin, Johnson was able to recover, at least well enough to finish ninth.

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