Kyle Busch Outlasts Larson to Capture a Dramatic Sprint Cup Series Victory at Auto Club Speedway
FONTANA, Calif. - Kyle Busch delivered his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) Auto Club Speedway (ACS) victory and became the fifth different series race winner this season after leading five of 206 race laps and crossing the finish line 0.214 of a second ahead of rookie Kyle Larson.
Busch and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing machine were in the right place at the right time on the two-mile oval track in the second straight series event plagued by tire inconsistencies that contributed to late-race drama.
Six-time NSCS title winner Jimmie Johnson, who led 104 ACS race laps, was on pace to capture his first series victory of the season when a tire on his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports car gave way on Lap 194.
Kyle Busch took the race lead from his elder brother, Kurt Busch, on the final lap of a green-white-checkered flag finish set up when Clint Bowyer's No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing car spun in Turn 4 after a tire went down on Lap 199.
The younger Busch, who often assumes the nickname Rowdy in tribute to aggressive stock-car movie Days of Thunder character Rowdy Burns, formed thoughts of a dramatic, Hollywood-style race finish when the No. 15 encountered trouble.
"The first thing that comes to mind when the caution came out with just a few laps to go? That was total Rowdy Burns Days of Thunder of right there. There are a couple laps to go, I'm not pitting.
"But everybody has to pit, Cole (Trickle). We're coming down (pit road) for four tires because there's a green-white-checkered coming. I knew four tires was going to win the race, so I'm glad Dave (Rogers, crew chief) called that.
"There was some great racing up front between Tony (Stewart) and Kurt (Busch) (on the restart). I went into Turn 1 thinking I'm going to run the middle and then Tony started sliding off the bottom. I'm like, 'Nope, not having it.' I had to get some brake, cut my car to the left, drive underneath and clear him off Turn 2," Kyle Busch said.
Larson, who earned his first NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) victory by outracing Busch at the track one day earlier, also successfully navigated the late-race restart traffic and maneuvered his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates car within strking distance of Busch's No. 18.
Busch warded off Larson's pending attack and earned a third career NSCS ACS victory.
"I was able to keep Kyle Larson behind me. Man, what a shoe. If he would have gotten alongside me, it would have been a whale of a race. I drove off into Turn 3 and heard his car inside on my left.
"If he drove it in further than I did - Jesus must have told him to stop. What an awesome race this track produced. I just can't believe it. I thank the Lord for putting us here and getting us locked in the Chase," Busch said after notching his eighth top-five and 12th top-10 finish in his 17th NSCS start at the track.
He'll roll to the March 30 NSCS Martinsville Speedway event trailing series championship leader and Roush Fenway Racing's Carl Edwards by 21 points. Edwards gained the NSCS championship lead for the first time this season by racing to at 10th-place Golden State finish that marked his fourth consecutive top-10 result of the campaign.
Larson notched his first top-five finish and second straight top-10 NSCS finish after placing 10th at Bristol Motor Speedway last week.
"I guess you couldn't ask for more. I was surprised to get up there late in the race. We struggled with our car being too loose on exit, but still too tight in the center. My guys worked really hard all day long to find that right balance, and, right there on the last pit stop, we were able to make good enough adjustments where we could go hard for a couple laps.
"I had to line up on the bottom and I was disappointed because the bottom had been getting jammed up once we got to Turn 1. I was surprised, I just watched it on TV and it was pretty wild. We were four wide there into Turn 1.
"I came out in fourth there, I think, and then got to second off Turn 2 the next lap. I thought I might have a shot at Kyle depending on where he'd go into Turn 3, but he was good enough to keep it on the bottom and stay ahead of me.
"We'll take a second. Long race (today) and definitely didn't expect to run second, so I'll take it and head back to North Carolina with a smile on my face," Larson said.
Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart respectively rounded out the race top five.
The elder Busch knocked out his first top-five Stewart-Haas Racing effort in the series after averaging a 30th-place finish in the opening four events this season. Kenseth scored his first top-five finish of the season along with his second top-10 effort in his past three events. Stewart posted his second straight top-five finish of the season and his 181st in the series since 1999.
The series makes its fourth Kentucky Speedway appearance June 28 in the Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts.
Weekend action opens June 26 with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) UNOH 225 and continues with a 300-mile NNS race June 27.
Tickets, campsites and infield Kroger Fan Zone passes can be respectively purchased through the Tickets pages, camping and Fan Zone pass sections of this website, by calling (859) 578-2300 or visiting our ticket office at 1 Speedway Dr., Sparta, Ky., 41086.
- Kentucky Speedway -