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Late caution changes fortunes for many drivers

Chase Elliott's gamble to stay on track during a late caution paid off, as he retained his lead to claim victory at Nashville Superspeedway.

LEBANON, Tenn. — Ryan Blaney said thank you. Martin Truex said sorry. Kyle Busch said “It’s going to be bad.”

A late caution sent some of the race’s best cars to pit road and out of a chance to win when others, including some that had struggled, stayed out and found themselves at the front for a four-lap shootout.

The easiest decision was by eventual winner Chase Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson. Elliott led when the caution came out for Josh Bilicki’s blown engine with eight laps to go at Nashville Superspeedway.

Kyle Busch was second, Denny Hamlin third, Truex fourth and Ross Chastain was fifth at the time.

Those four each pitted, although that was not the way it was supposed to go.

Crew chief James Small said the plan was for Truex to stay out if he could restart on the front row. With Busch and Hamlin pitting, Truex would have restarted next to Elliott on the front row by staying out. Instead, he pitted.

Small said Truex apologized for pitting. Truex restarted 14th and finished 22nd.

Busch had lost the lead to Elliott on the previous restart when Busch had the lane choice. After Elliott got by, Busch couldn’t get close to challenge. Often teams do the opposite of the leader. With Elliott staying out, Busch pitted. As for the exact reasoning, crew chief Ben Beshore declined comment after the race.

Busch was the first car off pit road after changing only right-side tires. When he was told he was the only car that had changed two tires, he made his comment on the radio about how hard it was going to be. He was right. Busch restarted 12th and finished 21st.

Among those who did not peel off pit road was Kurt Busch. He was sixth at the caution and restarted second to Elliott. But Elliott got by Kurt Busch quickly and wasn’t challenged.

“I got soft on him,” Kurt Busch said of Elliott. “I should have been throwing some fenders and moving some momentum around. I didn’t stick with our strength.”

Still, he finished second.

Ryan Blaney was ninth when the caution waved and moved to third for the restart by staying out. That’s where he finished, completing a chaotic night that saw him run toward the front early, struggle with handling, spin at Lap 205 and then end up with a top-five finish.

“I was surprised so many pitted,” Blaney said. “Tires didn’t mean a lot of tonight, especially for the first handful of laps, it didn’t really mean that much. Our plan was to stay our regardless. … Then I saw that many cars pit. I was pretty shocked.

“To get to line up on the second row, having a small chance to try to make something happen at the end of the race. Ended up with a good chance”

Kyle Larson was fourth when the caution waved and did not pit. He finished fourth.

Chastain used his four fresh tires to go from 11th to fifth, the highest finishing car that came to pit before the final restart.

“As soon as we got into Turn 1, we had grip,” Chastain said. “I got to (Cole Custer)’s back bumper and pushed him as long as I could. I wanted to try to tandem and help him and help me.

“Poked out and had clean air and then just kind of knifed my way though there and held off some guys on the last lap to hold on to fifth. It’s kind of where the seas parted on Turns 1 and 2 on fresh tires.”