BROOKLYN, Mich.—Kyle Busch claimed his fourth Sprint Cup Series win of the season and became the first driver to clinch a spot in the 12-member field for the championship Chase by taking Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Busch made a late-race pass on Jimmie Johnson for the lead and then held off Johnson during a green-white-checkered finish for his 23rd career win in NASCAR's top series. Busch held a more than two-second lead in the closing laps before his elder brother, Kurt, made contact with the wall and forced the fifth caution, which set up the two-lap overtime finish.
"It's so awesome to finally win here at Michigan," Kyle Busch said in regards to his first win at this wide two-mile track.
Busch also claimed his 101st victory combined in all three of NASCAR's national touring series. The 26-year-old driver has a record-tying 49 victories in Nationwide and 29 in the Camping World Truck Series.
Barring some unforeseen incident, Busch would be assured at least one of the two wild card spots by virtue of his series-leading four wins for the season. Just three races remain before the Chase begins on September 18 at Chicagoland Speedway.
"We wanted to make sure that we could come out here to win races and have the opportunity to go for broke," he added.
His lead is now 10 points over Johnson, whose second-place run marked his best finish at this track. Michigan is one of five racetracks on the current Sprint Cup schedule where Johnson has yet to win.
Johnson dealt with an ill-handling car early in the race and had to pit twice for adjustments on the car during the first caution. He fell back to 35th but patiently made his way through the field. Johnson pitted for the last time right before a late-race caution, which allowed him to take the lead for the restart. He led 18 laps before Busch made his winning pass.
"We had a tough start to the race on pit road and on the track," Johnson said. "We got that stuff ironed out and had great stops from then on. The car was really loose at the start of the race. I drove up through the field and [crew chief] Chad [Knaus] made a great call to get me to pit road before the caution came out. It gave us a shot at the win. But once I was up front in clean air, the balance of the car was a bit too loose."
Michigan-native Brad Keselowski finished third, as he continues to drive with a broken left ankle. Mark Martin took the fourth spot, followed by Ryan Newman.
Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth swapped the lead several times during the mid- stages of the race, but Gordon and Kenseth both fell off pace during the final two laps.
"There at the end, I just didn't get clear of the No.17 [Kenseth], and the No.2 [Keselowski] got in there," said Gordon, who placed sixth. "When that happened, it just killed us. We got real tight behind those guys."
Gordon surpassed the 22,000 mark in career laps led.
Kasey Kahne finished seventh, while Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart and Kenseth completed the top-10.
Greg Biffle, the pole sitter, dominated early by leading 86 laps, but Biffle faded in the late going and wound up finishing 20th.
Right now, Keselowski holds the first wild card position based on his two wins, while Hamlin occupies the second. Keselowski moved up two positions to 12th in points. Hamlin fell to 14th following his 35th-place run.
Hamlin experienced an issue with his splitter bar and had to spend 15 laps in the garage for repairs. He won at Michigan in June, his only victory so far in 2011.
Carl Edwards also spent a lengthy amount of time behind the wall for engine trouble early in the race.
"This was a race for us to just go out and win, but something broke," he said. "We're pushing the envelope with everything -- the engine and the pit crew. We'll get all of this stuff worked out for the Chase."