Nobody backs KB into a corner. After starting deep in the field after a poor qualifying run on Friday, Kyle Busch held off Chase Elliott on an overtime finish Saturday night to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.
After a miscue during Friday’s qualifying Busch found himself starting in 32nd Saturday. As the sun was setting, Busch sliced his way through the field and by lap 69 of 400 was seventh. He would be up to third by lap 130 and remain in contention taking the lead for the first time on lap 371.
“The first run of the race we actually made really good ground,” Busch said. “I was really happy with the way our car took off there at the beginning of the race. As the night kind of wore on we just didn’t quite have that advantage to everybody. Everybody kind of gained and got a little better and we made some adjustments and changes to the car in order to try to help ourselves and it seemed to be better there. Then, the last couple runs were just short runs. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys making the right adjustments to the car to have it faster on the short run was where it was at.”
The races sixth and final caution came out when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the wall with 3 laps to go. The caution set up a wild overtime finish that ended with Busch winning the 46th race of his career. He is now tied for 15th on the all time Cup wins list with Buck Baker.
“I think the difference for us tonight was just the adjustments,” Busch said. “Trying to stay with the race track all night long. Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys did a phenomenal job. I think one of the other keys to the night was just my guys – my pit crew – they got us out front when it mattered the most those last two pit stops. They were awesome tonight on pit road.”
It was also the third consecutive win for Busch who accomplished that feat only once before in his career, in 2015 the year he won the Cup title.
““It’s definitely cool we’ve won three in a row. We did it a couple years ago and now I don’t know if you can shoot for four in a row. It’s hard to go to Talladega with that much of a winning streak and think that you can go to victory lane, but we’re going to go there anyway and give it a shot. We’ll see what we can do.”
The 32nd place start also marked the farthest back any driver has started at Richmond and come back to win. Clint Bowyer started 31st in 2008 and went onto win.
With this third consecutive win Busch joins Kevin Harvick who did the same earlier this season, and it’s the first time in NASCAR history that two drivers have won three consecutive races only eight races into a season.
Busch’s charge to the front, and the win, wasn’t the only drama on the night.
Martin Truex Jr. led from pole and led a race high 191 laps. He saw it all come unraveled late in the going when a slow pit stop with 10 laps to go sent Truex to 11th. He would pit again prior to the overtime finish; he finished 14th.
“Pretty disappointed that we didn’t get at least a chance,” Truex said. “It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know what we have to do to win one of these short-tracks and get everything to go the way we need it to. Tonight we beat ourselves, so that’s unfortunate. The guys did a really good job with the race car. We were awful at the start of the race and I thought we were really in trouble. Just fought all night long and tried to stick with it and make good adjustments, and put ourselves in position to try to win another one and just came up short. Frustrated, but proud of everyone for the effort and hopefully we get them next week.”
Elliott was never in contention; his second-place finish came after a late race charge that saw him three wide in the closing laps. It was the eighth time in his young Cup career that he has finished runner up.
“Just very fortunate circumstances there at the end for us with the way the restarts went,” Elliott said. “Having a short run there at the end was definitely in our favor. So it was nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while.”
Like Elliott, Denny Hamlin was never in contention but ended the night with a third place.
“We just got better as the race went on,” Hamlin said. “We were 13th, 15th, something like that in the first half of the race. Just weren’t very strong. We just made some really good adjustments that got us rolling towards the front, especially on long runs.”
Joey Logano, who won this race last year, won both stages and led 92 laps. He struggled late but rallied to finish 4th.
“We maxed out those points which is awesome,” Logano said. “We just lost the handle on the car and fell back to sixth or so. We had a bad pit stop and lost a bunch of spots and then had a really good pit stop and got them all right back and were able to come home with a top-five. I wish I could re-run that. I feel like we can do better if we tried again. I am sure the whole field would say that. I am proud of the speed we showed at Richmond. Just want to be a little better.”
Kevin Harvick didn’t lead a lap but was good enough to come home fifth. Needing a decent run, Jimmie Johnson ran outside the top 10 most of the night but charged in the final laps and finished 6th.
Kyle Larson made up several laps and finished 7th, Brad Keselowski 8th, with Clint Bowyer who led 45 laps at one point finishing 9th.
Daniel Suarez survived several issues on track and in the pits to finish 10th and Kurt Busch who led the second most laps of the night, 98, faded late in the going and had to settle for 11th.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series head to Talladega Superspeedway for next Sunday’s Geico 500. Live coverage will be on Fox starting at 2:00 p.m. ET. Busch has one win at Talladega, that coming in 2008.
Busch now leads all active Cup drivers with 5 wins in Richmond and can now set his sights on a fourth consecutive win. The last driver to win four straight Cup races was Jimmie Johnson, who secured his second series title in 2007 with consecutive Playoff victories at Martinsville, Atlanta, Texas and Phoenix.
“You know I certainly would love to be doing this if this was week 10 of the playoffs we’d be talking about something pretty cool,” Busch said. “But I hope it’s not peaking too early. Obviously this is way early in the season. We’ve got a long way to go.”