Kyle Busch broke a tie with Richard Petty at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday.
Busch won Sunday’s second Cup Series race ahead of Chase Elliott and Ross Chastain and has now won a Cup race in 19 consecutive seasons. Busch was tied with the seven-time champion entering the 2023 season with at least one win in 18 seasons.
The win is Busch’s 61st career Cup Series win and also came at the site of his first Cup win. Busch won in August of 2005 for the first time at Auto Club Speedway and is set to be the last winner at the 2-mile track. NASCAR has already reportedly sold most of the land the speedway sits on and has plans to demolish the track and build a short track in its place.
Busch made the winning pass right ahead of the final set of pit stops. The final quarter of the 400-mile race went green and Busch was trailing Chastain ahead of green-flag pit stops as teams didn’t want to risk stretching their tires over the full length of the final run. Busch passed Chastain a lap before they pitted and then maintained that lead through the pit stops.
Once pit stops cycled through, Busch was ahead of everyone else and built a comfortable lead on Chastain before he was passed by Elliott for second.
The most chaotic moment of the race came on a restart in the second stage when 10 cars were involved in a pileup. Myriad drivers apparently thought the lead cars were accelerating faster than they were and Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick and others were involved in the mess.
Caution is out for an incident on the restart involving multiple cars. pic.twitter.com/bXRbxKk767
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 26, 2023
The victory comes in Busch’s second race for Richard Childress Racing after he left Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2022 season. Busch won 56 races for JGR from 2007-22 but only won once in 2022. That victory came at Bristol in April and Busch struggled in the playoffs as he finished 13th. That was his lowest points finish since he was 13th in 2012.
Moving from the team he won both his Cup titles with to a team that hasn’t won a Cup Series title since Dale Earnhardt was driving for it would look like a downgrade on the surface. But Busch had one of the fastest cars on Sunday and RCR drivers had four wins a season ago. Thanks to NASCAR’s new spec car and Busch behind the wheel, a run at the 2023 Cup Series title isn’t going to be a surprise at all.
Busch, 37, admitted after the race that some doubts crept into his mind about his driving ability after a season where he had the fewest top five finishes of his career. But those doubts should be erased by now. He was in position to win the Daytona 500 for the first time a week ago before a spate of late cautions and has shown he’s one of the best NASCAR drivers ever. And given that he’s still in the prime of his driving career, Busch could be the guy to bring RCR its first title since 1994.
Sunday’s race wasn’t the most thrilling. But it wasn’t boring either. And it was a fitting tribute to a track that had become one of the best in NASCAR thanks to its worn pavement and numerous racing grooves in the corners.
It’s no fluke that six of the top 10 finishers in the race were former Cup Series champion and another (Denny Hamlin in fifth) could be considered the best driver ever without a Cup Series title. Winning at Auto Club requires a good car and many of the attributes needed to be a great driver.
But we’re never going to see a race at this track again thanks to NASCAR’s desire to build a short track in its place. With a reported sale price of over $500 million and a lot of debt to service thanks to is privatization of International Speedway Corporation, you can understand why NASCAR took the money it could get for the property.
We’re now left to wait to see if NASCAR ever builds that short track. NASCAR executives have started to hedge when discussing the plan and have already said the project won’t be done in time for the 2024 Cup Series season.
It’s also unfortunate that the grandstands weren’t full for Auto Club Speedway’s finale either. While NASCAR announced a sellout hours before the race, it’s important to note that some grandstands had already been torn down ahead of the race. And if all the tickets were sold, they didn’t seem to all be used. Yes, it was a relatively chilly day in Southern California, but the overhead shots on the race broadcast continually showed swaths of empty seats.
1. Kyle Busch
2. Chase Elliott
3. Ross Chastain
4. Daniel Suarez
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Denny Hamlin
7. Brad Keselowski
8. Alex Bowman
9. Austin Dillon
10. Joey Logano
11. Martin Truex Jr.
12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
13. Chris Buescher
14. Corey LaJoie
15. Harrison Burton
16. Ty Gibbs
17. Todd Gilliland
18. Michael McDowell
19. Erik Jones
20. Chase Briscoe
21. Justin Haley
22. Noah Gragson
23. JJ Yeley
24. BJ McLeod
35. William Byron
26. Ryan Blaney
27. Cody Ware
28. Austin Cindric
29. Kyle Larson
30. Bubba Wallace
31. Ty Dillon
32. Christopher Bell
33. Ryan Preece
34. Tyler Reddick
35. Aric Almirola
36. AJ Allmendinger
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