For the first time during a long cold cloudy weekend the sun broke through and shined on Kyle Busch as he crossed the finish line to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday.
“I brighten everybody’s day every day,” Busch said with a smile as he celebrated in victory lane.
On a day when his rivals suffered issues on the track and in the pits, Busch held off red-hot Kevin Harvick to win his first race of the season his third at Texas and the 44th of his career.
“I just had to make sure to do everything I could to hit all my marks and everything to focus on making sure that I did the right things to block his air a little bit,” Busch said.
For Harvick, who has won three of the six races this year, Sunday was a day filled with struggle. After starting second, Harvick would go on to lead 87 laps and win the first stage. He lost the lead for the first time on pit road during a round of stops on lap 127 when a lug nut was caught up in the jack and slowed the stop; he restarted 9th. He was then forced to re-pit after a round of stops with a loose wheel on lap 137; he lost a lap and came back out 22nd. He later reported another loose wheel but was able to pit under caution.
Then on lap 235 one of Harvick’s crewmembers fell over the wall while trying to stop an errant tire during another stop; Harvick was penalized for too many crewmembers over the wall and sent to the end of the longest line. He fought his way back and thanks to timely pit stops was able to get inside the top five. After pitting off sequence earlier he pitted for the final time with Busch on lap 290. Busch bet Harvick off pit road, and Harvick as never able to retake the lead.
“We did overcome a lot,” an obviously frustrated Harvick said. “That was unfortunate. We had a pathetic day on pit road, two days on pit road because of pit guns. When you have a pit gun problem like we have multiple times and been able to overcome it and then today we couldn’t overcome it. Time after time you can’t get the lug nuts tight because the pit guns don’t work.”
Harvick was luckier than several others who never finished the race.
Martin Truex Jr. was the first among the favorites to see an early end to his day. Truex hit the frontstretch wall hard on lap 80 after losing a right front tire in turn 4 and the second caution of the day came out.
“We hadn’t had any problems all weekend and first set of tires looked good,” Truex said. “I don’t know if I run something over or what it was. Just one of them deals. We had a good car. We were going to be right there all day long I felt like. Still had some room to make it better too. I wish we could’ve seen, but just the way it goes sometimes.”
The day’s biggest accident took out a total of seven drivers. Just after a restart on lap 177 with Erik Jones leading and Kyle Busch in close pursuit, Busch got loose entering turn 3 and had to slow. Aric Almirola slowed, and Denny Hamlin made contact and slid towards the outside wall; in the ensuing melee Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Trevor Bayne, Austin Dillon, and David Ragan were swept up, all were done for the day.
“Just got loose under the 10 (Aric Almirola),” Hamlin said. “We were kind of getting squeezed there a little bit and there was just – running these speeds, you’ve got to have all the side force that you need. He was battling beside the 18 (Kyle Busch) I believe and you know we tried to go low and he was trying to fight for that real estate as well and we just got together.”
Among others whose day ended early was Kyle Larson. Larson’s Chevy failed pre-race inspection three times forcing him to start at the rear of the field and earning an ejection for his car chief. Larson would fight through the field to make it as high was fourth at one point and he looked to be a contender. But a blown right front tire on lap 126 sent him hard into the turn 1 wall and ended his day.
“I was pretty tight but didn’t really expect to blow a right-front,” Larson said. “Restarted up front there and was just really tight for a few laps and then actually got going pretty good. Just needed to get by Joey (Logano) there and I felt like I was one of the faster cars out there. So, felt like we could have had a shot at the end of the race, but it was cut short.”
Busch would go on to lead a race high 118 laps, win Stage 2 and after finishing second or third in the last four races it was time for Busch to celebrate his first win of the season after beating Harvick to the line by .3 of a second.
“We might have been just a tick behind the 4 (Kevin Harvick) on overall speed,” Busch said. “But when we were out front and we were where we needed to be there at the end, we were just able to hold them off and then run the right line in order to hold them off. Can’t say enough about all these guys – everybody on this Toyota. It was rocking today.”
Joey Logano was sixth, Kurt Busch seventh, Bubba Wallace ran inside the top five for a time, and came home eighth, with Clint Bowyer ninth and William Byron who also started at the rear of the field after a mechanical issue rounded out the top 10.
The series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Food City 500 next Sunday with live coverage on Fox with the green flag falling just after 2:00 p.m. ET