One week after offering his resignation to team owner Joe Gibbs over the radio at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch was singing a different tune in Victory Lane at Pocono Raceway.
Balance was the key for Busch and the No. 18 Toyota. Once crew chief Adam Stevens found the right feel for his driver and Busch cycled out to the lead, the car was unstoppable in clean air.
The driver took the point for the fourth and final time on Lap 140. Busch led the remaining 21 laps and extended his advantage by 2.224-seconds over Brad Keselowski to the win in the Pocono 400 on Sunday.
“I passed one guy on the outside of Turn 3 and that was the only guy I needed to pass, I guess,” Busch said of his pass of Clint Bowyer on Lap 75. “It was hard otherwise. We kind of got stuck in traffic back there a little bit earlier in the race. We were about fifth or sixth and couldn't really do anything.
“But overall my guys on pit road were awesome. We got some spots there, track position. Adam Stevens and some of our race calls getting us further up towards the front, so it's cool to get a win here, cool to get a win at Pocono again, Rowdy Nation is up there supporting us, and having some M&M's. Camrys that are fast like this makes my job of a hell of a lot easier.”
With Busch’s third win at the Tricky Triangle—and 55th-career Cup victory overall—he ties Rusty Wallace for ninth on the all-time win list.
“It’s pretty special,” Busch said. “We just keep doing what we need to do. I’ve won 55 of them I guess, but there are just as many that I’ve lost out on. I know if I could have them back, I would be well on my way. But overall, just keep fighting, keep digging. It’s pretty cool to continue to get with and eclipse many of these great names that have helped build our sport to what it is today.”
Erik Jones, Chase Elliott, Bowyer, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Daniel Suarez, pole sitter William Byron and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.
Byron led the first 22 laps but lost the point during pit stops when the competition caution was called on Lap 21. Kyle Larson assumed the lead off of pit road on Lap 23.
Austin Dillon’s day ended early when Paul Menard tagged the back of the No. 3 Chevy in Turn 3. The debris from Dillon slapping the wall triggered the second caution on Lap 30. Dillon was scored 37th.
Larson held on for his first of two stage wins—the third time the driver of the No. 42 Chevy has accomplished that feat.
Busch, who had pitted on Lap 48, led for the first time on Lap 56. He led a race-high 79 laps throughout the contest. Busch briefly lost the lead to Bowyer on the Lap 73 restart—following Corey LaJoie’s spin in the short chute. But Busch tracked Bowyer down and regained the lead on the outside of the No. 14 Ford in Turn 3. He led 20 laps before pitting on Lap 95. Elliott pitted one lap later, handing over the lead and the second stage win to Larson. The No. 42 extended his lead over Logano at the green and white checkers by 2.164-seconds.
Last week’s winner Martin Truex Jr., fell short of completing the second stage when his engine expired on Lap 91. He finished 35th.
Busch cycled back to the lead after Larson, Logano, Keselowski, Byron, Kurt Busch and Chris Buescher pitted on Lap 103. Kevin Harvick, Bowyer, Hamlin, Elliott, Jones, Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney and Logano restarted in the top 10 for the final 55 laps.
Harvick’s issues started on Lap 123 when he pitted behind Busch. The No. 4 pit crew was penalized for an uncontrolled right front tire and Harvick had to serve a drive-thru penalty. He dropped to 21st.
Busch regained the lead on Lap 141 after the rest of the field pitted. He held a three-second lead over Jones when the right front tire blew on Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Ford for the eighth and final caution of the race. Bowman and Almirola were the only drivers to pit out of the top 10. Harvick, who was down on power, pitted as well. Upon lifting the hood on the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, the team discovered a cracked steering box. Harvick limped home to a 22nd-place finish.
The race restarted with nine laps to decide the contest. Keselowski jumped from fourth to second on the restart and Larson came from seventh to fourth before misjudging the space between his car and Bowyer’s. He cut across the No. 14 Ford’s nose, bounced off of Bowyer and into the wall. Larson was forced to pit and dropped to 26th, one lap down.
Despite vaulting to second, Keselowski had nothing for Busch over the final eight laps.
“He was strong,” Keselowski said of Busch. “He was one of the fastest cars. Not only was he one of the fastest cars but if you were a 20th place car and got into the lead today you were going to drive away. It is just the way the rules were.”
Despite posting his second top-five finish in the last three races, Bowyer was “a little bit frustrated” with his result.
“We had a pretty good car,” Bowyer said.“We had a third to fifth place car. That is about what we had and we did a good job finishing with what we had. We are just giving up way too many stage points. We have to figure out how to get some stage points. That is all we had today.
“Wherever you came off of Turn 1 is where you ran.”
Busch extended his lead to six points over Logano in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup standings. Elliott, who scored his fifth-consecutive top-five finish on Sunday, trails Logano by 44 points.
“We had a solid day. Things kind of went our way there at the end to get that Top 5. It was nice to be running in the Top 5 and be close, just not close enough.”