Kyle Busch pulls away to win at Pocono again
A post-qualifying inspection failure? No problem.
A starting position deep in the field for Sunday's Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway? Just another challenge for Kyle Busch to overcome.
Holding off a determined charge from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Suarez in two late restarts—the first after a brutal wreck that sidelined Bubba Wallace—Kyle Busch powered his No. 18 Toyota to his sixth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season, tying fourth-place finisher Kevin Harvick for the series lead.
Suarez started from the pole and finished a career-best second, 1.788 seconds behind Busch, who collected his second victory at the 2.5-mile Tricky Triangle and the 49th of his career, tying him with Tony Stewart for 13th on the all-time win list.
With the triumph, Busch completed a weekend sweep at Pocono, having tied NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career lead at 51 with his win in Saturday's Gander Outdoors 150.
After his celebratory burnout, Busch had nothing but praise for his teammate.
"The last restart I spun my tires a little bit too much and he got a really good run. I think that gave (JGR teammate and fifth-place finisher Erik) Jones an opportunity to make it three-wide going into (Turn) 1. They got into racing (each other), and I kind of got away."
On tying Stewart with 49 wins, Busch said, "That's awesome. You keep reaching up the ladder, and you keep reaching more milestone drivers. Tony Stewart is one of the all-time best and one of the drivers I was a fan of growing up as well. It's awesome to tie him."
Alex Bowman ran third, a career-best finish that left 15th in the series standings and enhanced his chances of qualifying for the Playoffs.
Harvick and Busch posted the two fastest laps in Saturday's qualifying session, but their times were disallowed because of subsequent inspection failures—along with those of 11 other drivers. Busch started 28th and Harvick 29th.
Harvick won Stage 2, but the Toyotas of Busch, Suarez, Jones, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. pitted three laps before the end of the stage and stayed out under the subsequent caution, putting Harvick back in traffic for a restart on Lap 106.
A collision with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola on pit road sent Harvick to the back of the field once more, but he was able to drive up to fourth before running out of laps at the finish.
"It definitely changed the course of the race," Adam Stevens, Busch's crew chief, said of the Toyotas pitting en masse before the end of Stage 2. But Stevens demurred when asked if it was a group decision.
Suarez did all he could to catch his teammate after Busch took the lead on Lap 108 of 164, but to no avail.
"Sometimes, as a driver, you're on offense, or you are on defense, and myself, in the second part of the race, I was most of the time on offense, and I was just attacking as hard as I can," Suarez said. "Many times, my spotter was telling me what was going on behind me, and one or two times I was very, very close to telling him, ‘Hey, I don't care what's going on behind me—just tell me what's going on with the 18 (Busch).
"You know, we did a good job. I feel like we put ourselves in position. We just have to put ourselves in position more often. If this starts to happen often, we are going to get one. We just have to keep working hard, and maybe next time we can get a little bit more help from behind. I feel like that was all it was going to take, just a little bit more push."
Busch held a comfortable lead over Suarez on Lap 154, when Wallace, running 22nd at the time, slammed into the Turn 1 wall with bone-jarring impact.
"No brakes—oh (expletive)!," Wallace screamed over his radio as his car lurched to the left at the end of the frontstretch, slid through the grass and smashed into the SAFER barrier on the passenger's side. A tense minute passed before Wallace lowered his window net; he was conscious and able to move within the car.
Wallace climbed from the crippled car with the aid of safety workers and sat on the asphalt, his back against the driver's door, and climbed into a waiting ambulance for a trip to the infield care center.
"Hardest one of my career," Wallace said of the impact. "I was just telling them here (in the care center) there is no feeling like being helpless in that situation going off into Turn 1, and it scared the hell out of me. I didn't know if I was going to remember if I hit or not, so we are good.
"Bit my cheek, banged my foot off the pedal. I'm OK, though. I'll wake up tomorrow and be a little sore, but the safety has come a long way. It's good to be able to climb out of the car. The EMT's were worried that I didn't let the window net down fast enough, and I was like ‘Hell, that was the last thing I thought about—I'm sorry.'
"Everything was good. They gave me an ultrasound—no twins or anything, so I'm good."
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M’s Caramel Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 1st
Were you worried about your teammate, Daniel Suárez on those final restarts?
"I was – (Daniel) Suárez , I just can't say enough about my teammate. What an awesome race. He was probably the third-best car – (Kevin) Harvick was the best car and we were the second-best car and then Suárez was the third-best car. He gave us a run for our money there on those last couple restarts. The last one I spun my tires a little too much and he got a really good run and I think that gave (Erik) Jones an opportunity to make it three-wide down into one and those guys got to racing and just kind of let me get away. Just can't say enough about Adam Stevens (crew chief) and all my guys. This Caramel Toyota Camry was awesome and had a lot of speed, but we fought it all weekend. Glad to get here and glad to get another win for all the Rowdy Nation fans out there and everybody here at Pocono. We swept the weekend and taking home both eagle trophies this week."
What does it mean to tie Tony Stewart with 49 career wins?
"That's awesome and you keep reaching higher up the ladder and you keep reaching milestone drivers and Tony Stewart is one of the all-time best and one of the drivers that I was a fan of as well growing up so it's awesome to be able to tie him. There are many more that we want to keep tying and getting higher than, but Tony's a great friend and it's pretty cool to be able to get that. What's crazy is how this year keeps going you know – it's like Harvick gets one, we get one, (Martin) Truex (Jr.) gets one and we're all back and forth. We answered the point here this weekend without having the fastest car and that's what matters."
What has made you so strong at Pocono?
"I don't know, certainly Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys are mightily incredible, we didn't unload the best I didn't feel like. I felt like I had a feel here last year and we were way off of that. We worked really hard on trying to get that back and they did such a good job, just a phenomenal time here. M&M's Caramel and it's pretty cool to win for them being here and right up the road is where they're all at in Hackettstown so really thankful for that and of course Toyota and Interstate Batteries, NOS Energy Drink – made by a winner for winners so that's good for them. Of course Stanley – what about my teammate? Daniel Suárez running second, he gave me a heck of a run and ran me so clean, but he did a great job. I didn't have a terrible restart on that last one, but not a great one and he was able to keep up with me down into turn one and raced down in there and then I'm not sure what happened after that. I heard three-wide, but we got Stanley on our car and Stanley on their car so cool for them to be up front. And Cessna, Rheem, DVX Eyewear, Black Clover and appreciate the fans and appreciate Rowdy Nation and being able to win here again at Pocono means a lot."
What got you back to victory lane at Pocono this weekend?
"Just a lot of hard work and a lot of smart people, Adam Stevens (crew chief) mainly and then all my guys that he has that works on these cars and makes them so fast for me. It's phenomenal to have those guys and this M&M's Caramel Camry was awesome today, we had some good speed and we raced really well and had great pit stops all day and we were able to keep it up front when we needed it there. I want to thank Interstate Batteries, NOS Energy Drink, Stanley, Cessna, Rheem, DVX Eyewear, Black Clover and of course Rowdy Nation and all the fans, I appreciate them. Winning here at Pocono is pretty cool."
How difficult was it to navigate traffic coming from the back of the field?
"We had a little bit of trouble passing guys and being able to get by them, everybody was so equal for probably eight to 15 laps and then after that it seemed like we could start making ground on people. Our car just kept rotating a little bit better than theirs and we were able to get underneath them, but for the first part of a run it was hard to get by them with everyone on equal tires, it was pretty hard. Overall though, once we got out front we knew that if we could get out front we felt like we could keep it out front. Daniel (Suárez ) kept up with me there that last run and paced right with me for about those 10 laps and then we started to kind of inch away from him a little bit and that was a cool deal for us."
What does it mean to tie Tony Stewart with 49 wins and know that Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett are next with 50 wins?
"More times than not, when I see you, you let me know about it. You know who all those names are and where all their wins are and everything else. It's pretty fun and Tony's (Stewart) a great friend of mine and it means a lot to tie him, he's a legend in this sport and one of the ones that I looked up to and one of the ones that I was a fan of growing up too and it's really neat to get to 49 and just think of where we're going to be when it's all said and done, hopefully I can get many, many more."
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