It took over a year and 36 Cup races, but Kyle Busch finally won. After coming close several times this season, Busch finally won his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup race of 2017 with a convincing victory in the Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway Sunday.
Busch led a race high 74 laps and used smart pit strategy to score the 39th win of his Cup career, and his first at Pocono. And more importantly finally won.
“It’s been a frustrating year and this certainly relieves a little bit of that – I wouldn’t say all of it,” Busch said. “Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and these guys did an awesome job today… All these guys, the pit crew – they do a great job each and every week. We had to rely on them on that final stop so we didn’t lose too much time to those guys because we had so much distance that we were letting them have it on us with those fresher tires that they had. It’s been a frustrating year, but an awesome day today.”
Kevin Harvick was second, Martin Truex Jr. was third followed by Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top five.
As was the case in June, NASCAR’s stage racing led to a 400-mile chess game in terms of pit strategy with some drivers pitting prior to the end of a stage, while others elected to stay out.
Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens was the chess master however. He left Busch out in the closing laps, bringing him in with 25 laps to go. The rest of the leaders had already pitted giving Busch the freshest tires. Busch used that advantage and with 15 laps to go, used a bump and run on Harvick, who was in the lead at the time, to grab the top spot.
“The only chance the I had (to keep the 18 behind me) was to get into the corner correctly,” Harvick said I got in there and was loose all the way through the corner on entry and just kept holding the brake down, holding the brake down, holding the brake down and finally, I’m sure he thought I was going to go and I didn’t accelerate… Kyle (Busch) had the class of the field all weekend. His car was really, really fast. He got the pole. Got the win. Pretty much just charged through the field.”
From there no one had anything for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver who won by over 6 seconds.
“I knew exactly what he was doing, we talked about that before,” Busch said of the late it call. “I was all on board with everything we had going on there. Our car was really fast on the long run with nobody in front of us – we were just flying there. When those guys were in front of us, we were running 53.30s or whatever and then they dumped off and peeled off and we had clean air and we were running 52.50s – faster than they were on older tires. We were fine. You can’t get through traffic and it’s kind of frustrating in that regard.”
Busch’s day started on the right foot. For the first time in 45 years, NASCAR held Cup qualifying on the same day as the race. Busch won the pole, his second consecutive after winning the pole at Indy. Truex started second and like Indy, was Busch’s only real competitor. Truex led the second most laps on the day 31, with Hamlin leading 18 laps.
Busch won the first stage while Clint Bowyer won Stage 2 and finished sixth. Daniel Suarez was seventh, followed by Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth and Chase Elliott in the top 10.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. in his final Pocono race came home 12th. For the second Pocono race, reigning champion Jimmie Johnson crashed out, getting tagged by his teammate Kasey Kahne on lap 56 and spinning the back of his Chevy into the wall and out of the race, he finished 35th.
Kyle Larson, who came into the race second in the standings, lost a driveshaft while running third on lap 69. He made repairs and returned finishing 33rd 12 laps down.
The only other incident in the race occurred on the opening lap at the exit of turn 3, when Kenseth running 14th, spun. A total of eight cars were involved including Aric Almirola who had heavy damage and was the first car out of the race.
The win for Busch was his first at Pocono leaving only Charlotte as the track he has yet to win a Cup race at. It was also the 100th Cup win for Toyota; 35 of those have come from Busch. It was also meaningful for Busch for other reasons, as he showed a rare display of emotion in Victory Lane.
“This is the first time I’ve been to victory lane in a points paying race since my grandmother passed away,” a humbled Busch said. “This one’s for her and she’s smiling down on us here today and I appreciate that.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the road course at Watkins Glen in New York next Sunday. Live coverage will be on the NBC Sports Network at 3:00 p.m. ET.