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Clean race again eludes Kyle Busch, but No. 18 in solid shape with 7th

After a seventh-place finish in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas, Kyle Busch is more determined than ever to advance to the Championship 4.

FORT WORTH, Texas – Kyle Busch still is looking for one clean race in the 2019 playoffs, but the good news is he still has a chance to deliver it for a championship.

Despite battling some funky handling problems and briefly running out of gas heading to his final pit stop, Busch salvaged a seventh Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway that puts him in decent position to advance to his fifth consecutive championship round.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver is ranked third in the standings, two points ahead of Joey Logano (who is in the final transfer spot, 20 points ahead of fifth-ranked Denny Hamlin). With Texas winner Kevin Harvick and Martinsville Speedway winner Martin Truex Jr. locked into the title round, at least one of the final two spots in the Nov. 17 final will be awarded on points.

“We have to do whatever we have to do in order to be that guy,” Busch said. “If we can obviously go to Phoenix and have a strong run and be able to go out there and win, that will put ourselves through as well, too.”

But Busch said it essentially will come to ensuring he stays ahead of Logano (with Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson likely too far back to surpass either of them).

“(Logano) is the only guy we have to worry about,” Busch said. “We have to beat him on points. And no matter what anybody else does, we’ll be fine.

“He’s tough to beat. He’s really, really good. Him and I, we had a battle through the regular season as well for (the points championship).”

Busch, who remained winless since June, notched his fourth top 10 in eight playoff races after grinding out a 500-mile race in which the handling on his No. 18 Toyota was all over the place.

“Every time we put tires on it, it was doing something different, and then when we wouldn’t put tires on it, it was pretty good,” he said. “And at the end, we didn’t put tires on it, just put gas in it, and then it was sideways loose. Just fighting balance all the time.”

If not for stalling in the pits on his last green-flag stop with 31 laps remaining (“I cost us four spots there; it took them engaging the can and me cranking it over to try to get it to fill back up”), he still nearly managed his second top five in three races.

“We were going to run third today with a clean race,” he said. “The front two guys (Harvick and teammate Aric Almirola, who combined to led 181 of 334 laps), they were gone. They were checked out. We had no speed for them.

“We were wide open, and they were driving away, so we’ve got to rework whatever the hell we’re going to do to make our stuff faster for next year.”