After several heartbreaking outcomes, Kyle Busch checks off another track he’s won in the Monster Energy Cup Series after winning at “The Tricky Triangle” Sunday for Toyota’s 100th Cup victory.
The first 20 races of 2017 has been the tale of bad luck for Kyle Busch, dominant car after dominant car but unable to produce a race win because of circumstances such as late-race cautions and pit road misfortunates.
This time around, neither became an issue for Busch and finally snapped his 36-race winless streak in Sunday’s Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania after starting from the pole position.
Busch pulled a bump and run move on runner-up Kevin Harvick with 17 laps to go and ran away with the victory, winning by 6.178 seconds over Harvick and led a race-high 74 of 160 laps.
It’s Busch’s 39th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win, tying him with Tim Flock for 18th on the all-time wins list. Busch’s victory was also Toyota’s 100th Cup win, nine years after Busch brought the manufacturer its first Cup win at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
After doing his burnouts and taking a bow in front of large crowd, Busch felt relieved winning at Pocono as it was one of two racetracks (Charlotte Motor Speedway) Busch has never won in the Cup Series.
“I never thought this day would happen,” Busch said. “Such an awesome racecar. (Crew chief) Adam Stevens and all the guys from the No. 18 team has never gave up. We all been fighting all year long and wasn’t sure what was next. It was a great day for us and it was something that I’ve been waiting for a long time.”
Busch added in victory lane his first win of the season has relieved most of the frustrations he and his team endured.
Last Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Busch and points leader Martin Truex, Jr. crashed out in stage three, ending Busch’s chance of winning his third straight race at the Brickyard.
“It’s been a frustrating year but this certainly relives a little bit of that, I wouldn’t say all of it,” Busch said. “I can’t say enough about this team and this was Toyota’s 100th Cup win. The pit crew does a great job each and every week and we had to rely on them there on the final stop to give me a good stop so we didn’t lose too much time to those guys. We had so much distance that we were letting them have it with those fresher tires that they had. It’s just been a frustrating year but an awesome win.”
Busch’s crew chief called him to pit on lap 136, a different strategy than other drivers as his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates pitted several laps earlier.
Busch said he was confident about Adam Stevens’ call and his car was faster on clean air even after his competitors pitted.
“I knew exactly what he was doing, we talked about that before so I was all onboard with everything we had going on there,” Busch said. “Our car was really fast on the long run with nobody in front of us, we were just flying. When those guys were in front of us, we were running 53.30s (seconds) and then they pulled off and ducked off and we had clean air on us and we were running 52.50s, faster than they were on older tires. We were fine but you can’t get through traffic and it’s kind of frustrating in that regard.”
During the post-race press conference, Stevens felt pitting late was the right call. Stevens also believed Busch’s tires was going to hold up for 24 laps.
“It was a matter of doing something different than those guys,” Stevens said. “We were far enough back that we weren’t going to be able to jump them by short pitting. They could come in on the next lap and still be in front of us when we cycled through. We had to get ourselves in a spot where we had a tire advantage and plus they came out in traffic and waited until we wouldn’t come out in traffic for better clean air and it definitely paid off.”
Stevens said Busch’s slip on lap 76 after restarting fourth led to a different pit strategy but recovered from the brief mishap.
“Kyle got into turn one a little bit too hot and slipped our rear tires, it really threw off the balance for the rest of that run,” Stevens said. “We didn’t make a lot of adjustments. We didn’t confiscate for that at all. It was a deal where he got himself in a bit of a bad spot and maybe that set of tires wasn’t lined up great with the other ones. It looked like it was on paper but once we got those off there, it was back to normal.”
Harvick’s runner-up finish was his 25th since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 but only his second in 2017, both at Pocono.
Harvick said the race’s final lead change was a result of him being loose in turn three after trying to protect his lead from a storming Busch.
“I knew the only chance I had was to get through the corner correctly and I got in there and got loose all the way through the corner on the entry,” Harvick said. “I kept holding the brake down, holding the brake down, holding the brake down and then finally I’m sure Kyle thought I was going to go and I didn’t accelerate. I was trying to stay on the bottom to park the thing and get going and he just had a good roll.”
Busch said he did felt Harvick was slipping and accidentally bumped him for the lead.
“I rolled off into the corner and I knew that he gonna slip up off the bottom and he did. I throttled up just a little bit because I didn’t know that he was going to stop the slide or if he was going to keep sliding and I wanted to carry the momentum underneath him.” Busch said. “But with those rumble strips down there, I can only go so low with the yellow line. He like stabbed the brake pedal a couple of times in order to get it calmed down and get the car back underneath him and I wasn’t quick enough to react and I bumped him a little bit.”
Busch said he doesn’t consider his pass on Harvick a bump and run but added he needed to pass drivers before his tires wear off.
“I wouldn’t call that a bump and run because it was almost accidental,” Busch said. “Kevin knew what he had and knew what I had. Obviously being able to drive away for the win was pretty important to get to the front as fast as we could, cutting through traffic with those guys with fresher tires.”
Harvick said Busch had a fast car all weekend and still has work to do after having one win at Sonoma Raceway June 25.
“The guys on the Mobil 1 Ford did a great job. Kyle had the class of the field all weekend,” Harvick said. “His car was really fast, got the pole and got the win. He just charged right through the field. We definitely got a little bit of work to do but I feel like we’re getting closer and closer. I felt like we raced around all Toyota’s all day. I know we’ll get better as we go into the playoffs and just keep battling, that’s all you can do.”
Harvick sits third in the points standings, trailing Kyle Larson and Truex, Jr.
Harvick’s lone win and eight playoff points however only puts him seventh in the playoff standings with five regular season races to go.
Truex, Jr. finished third and extended his points lead over Larson from 48 to 85 points after Larson lost a drive shaft on lap 71.
Larson went to the garage but returned to the track and finished 33rd, 12 laps behind Busch.
Truex, Jr. said traffic cost him a shot of a better result after pitting on lap 127, nine laps earlier than Busch.
“It wasn’t the right strategy but I still think we had a shot at it had we not caught up traffic so bad. I just kept catching lapped cars on the wrong spots and cost us second without a doubt,” Truex, Jr. said. “I don’t know if we could’ve beaten Kyle, he was really fast at the end and we were off on the last run.”
“Everybody did a good job this weekend, kind of tried a new package and new setup but we couldn’t get it quite right,” Truex, Jr. said. “We were okay in clean air, out front with the lead. I still felt like a couple of guys were a little better than us and we’ll get to work.”
Rounding out the top-five were Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.
Clint Bowyer finished sixth after pit strategy earned him a stage two victory. Daniel Suarez came home seventh for his third straight top-10 effort.
Suarez’s rookie rival Erik Jones finished eighth after failing to finish the last two races. Suarez’s teammate Matt Kenseth came home ninth and Chase Elliott finished tenth.
TriStar Motorsports driver Cole Whitt finished a lap down in 24th, ahead of playoff contenders Jamie McMurray and Joey Logano in Bryan Smith’s debut as car owner.
Bryan’s father, Mark, 63, died last Sunday after battling cancer, the same day Whitt captured a career-best 12th place finish at Indianapolis.
Mark owned TriStar since its Cup debut at Talladega May 7, 1989 with driver Ron Esau.
Under Mark’s ownership, TriStar captured three poles with Loy Allen, Jr. in 1994 and nine top-10 finishes in 217 starts, the last being at Bristol Motor Speedway March 31, 1996 with Dick Trickle finishing eighth.
Despite the loss of its patriarch, Bryan will keep the team afloat as it currently fields two full-time Chevrolet’s (Whitt’s No. 72 in Cup and J.J. Yeley’s No. 14 in Xfinity Series). Yeley captured his first top-10 this season, finishing sixth at Iowa Speedway Saturday won by Ryan Preece.
Sunday’s race improved Whitt from 33rd to 31st in the standings after finishing inside the top-25 for the eighth time in 2017.
The Cup drivers make their second and last stop on a road course at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York Aug. 6. Hamlin is the defending winner.