What a difference a week makes. A week after missing out on a weekend sweep at Las Vegas, Kyle Busch was able to seal the deal Sunday winning the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Ticket Guardian 500 at ISM Raceway and celebrate his first win of the season a day after his Xfinity race win.
Busch stalked Ryan Blaney, who led 95 laps on the day, in the final laps catching Blaney in heavy lapped traffic and passing him with 15 to go.
From there Busch was untouchable. Blaney in fuel saving mode, as were most of the leaders, was passed by Martin Truex Jr. with 4 laps to go as Busch held on to win by 1.259 seconds.
“We knew the 12 (Ryan Blaney) was really really fast,” Busch said. “He was probably the best car here this weekend. I don’t know if he just got too tight in that long run. That’s what it looked like all of us were doing. Just seemed like I could get through there a little bit better. I tried to search around and find something that could help me to get me going a little bit better and get around to his outside and get the lead.”
Busch led a race high 177 laps in route to the 52nd career Cup win, his third at ISM Raceway and after winning Saturday’s Xfinity series race marked the 12th time Busch has won both races in a National series event weekend.
“Man, god, this makes last week feel so much stupider,” Busch joked. “I wish we could have swept last week, too. That would have been pretty awesome to start out this year with two weekend sweeps, three being in my hometown of Vegas.”
The last of 9 caution flags came on lap 234 when Ryan Preece hit the wall, again; the rookie had smacked the wall on lap 227 and had tried to continue.
That set up a final round of pit stops just inside the final fuel window leaving teams on a fuel saving strategy for the final 78 laps of 312.
Martin Truex Jr. didn’t lead a lap but charged forward in the final laps to finish second.
“A great day for us here at Phoenix which is not one of our greatest tracks,” Truex said. “Looking forward to going to one of our favorite tracks next weekend in California and seeing if we can go back to back.”
After his Team Penske teammates had won the last two races, it looked like Blaney would carry the Penske flag to victory lane. He started on pole and won Stage 1 and took the lead thanks to a two tires on the final stops but, in the end, had to settle for third.
“We were on two tires and I just held on,” Blaney said. “Actually, ours held on a lot better than what I thought it was going to, but then when it got to 30 to go or 25 to go, I got kind of tight and I couldn’t hit three and four anymore, and then I ran up on lap traffic and it absolutely killed me.”
“Once we got passed, we were kind of close on gas, so it was full fuel save mode when you know you’re not gonna win the race,” he added. “It was a good call to take two tires. I don’t think we would have got to third on four because it was hard to pass out there. I’m proud of this team. We needed that. That’s where we’ve been running all year, it just hasn’t been where we’ve been finishing.”
Aric Almirola and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.
Kyle Larson, who was forced to start 31st after a qualifying miscue on Friday rallied to come home sixth, followed by his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kurt Busch.
“It was a clean day for us, so I was happy about that,” Larson said. “Had some really good restarts that kept us in the game. We worked on our balance throughout the race, tried to free it up and got too free and then had to go back on changes to tighten us back up. So, yeah to come away with a sixth is nice after the last couple of weeks we’ve had of just making mistakes and even this week we made a big mistake in qualifying, but thankfully, we were able to work through it.”
Jimmie Johnson scored his best finish of the season in eighth.
“Yeah, definitely a strong performance,” Johnson said. “We need more. We need to find more, but on a short track where grip is so important our guys did a nice job all weekend long of bringing a little bit more. Excited about that. We weathered the storm on two tires, on four and ended up with a nice top 10.”
Last year’s winner Kevin Harvick who still leads all active drivers with seven wins in Phoenix, never led a lap Sunday and finished 9th. Vegas winner Joey Logano finished 10th.
The third race of NASCAR’s Western Swing heads to Auto Club Speedway in California for next Sunday’s AAA 400.
Busch now has 199 wins across all three National Series and could get 200 next Sunday.
“It’s not for me to worry about,” Busch said of 200 wins. “It’s for everybody else to discuss and talk about and argue over and debate.”
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race Results TicketGuardian 500
Sunday, March 10, 2019
1. (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 312.
2. (9) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 312.
3. (1) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 312.
4. (14) Aric Almirola, Ford, 312.
5. (3) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 312.
6. (31) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 312.
7. (16) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 312.
8. (15) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 312.
9. (8) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 312.
10. (12) Joey Logano, Ford, 312.
11. (26) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 312.
12. (18) Ryan Newman, Ford, 312.
13. (19) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 312.
14. (2) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 312.
15. (20) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 312.
16. (22) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 312.
17. (17) Paul Menard, Ford, 311.
18. (11) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 311.
19. (5) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 311.
20. (30) Matt Tifft #, Ford, 311.
21. (13) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 311.
22. (23) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 311.
23. (28) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 311.
24. (7) William Byron, Chevrolet, 310.
25. (29) David Ragan, Ford, 310.
26. (24) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 310.
27. (33) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 308.
28. (25) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 308.
29. (10) Erik Jones, Toyota, 304.
30. (35) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 302.
31. (36) Bayley Currey(i), Ford, 301.
32. (34) Cody Ware #, Chevrolet, 300.
33. (32) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 267.
34. (21) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, Accident, 229.
35. (6) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Accident, 191.
36. (27) Michael McDowell, Ford, Accident, 157.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 101.693 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 4 Mins, 5 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.259 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 9 for 57 laps.
Lead Changes: 17 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders: R. Blaney 1-35;K. Busch 36-40;R. Blaney 41;D. Hamlin 42-45;K. Busch 46-65;D. Hamlin 66;R. Blaney 67-79;K. Busch 80-152;D. Hamlin 153;K. Busch 154-195;R. Blaney 196;J. Johnson 197-200;K. Busch 201-220;D. Hamlin 221;D. Hemric # 222-225;A. Almirola 226-251;R. Blaney 252-295;K. Busch 296-312.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Busch 6 times for 177 laps; Ryan Blaney 5 times for 94 laps; Aric Almirola 1 time for 26 laps; Denny Hamlin 4 times for 7 laps; Jimmie Johnson 1 time for 4 laps; Daniel Hemric # 1 time for 4 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 12,10,22,88,18,42,3,24,9,4
Stage #2 Top Ten: 18,14,4,19,11,6,48,22,9,1