Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service
LONG POND, Pa. – A post-qualifying inspection failure? No problem.
A starting position deep in the field for Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway? Just another challenge for Kyle Busch to overcome.
Holding off a determined charge from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Suarez in two late restarts—the first after a brutal wreck that sidelined Bubba Wallace—Kyle Busch powered his No. 18 Toyota to his sixth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season, tying fourth-place finisher Kevin Harvick for the series lead.
Suarez started from the pole and finished a career-best second, 1.788 seconds behind Busch, who collected his second victory at the 2.5-mile Tricky Triangle and the 49th of his career, tying him with Tony Stewart for 13th on the all-time win list.
With the triumph, Busch completed a weekend sweep at Pocono, having tied NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career lead at 51 with his win in Saturday’s Gander Outdoors 150.
After his celebratory burnout, Busch had nothing but praise for his teammate.
“Suarez, man, I can’t say enough about my teammate,” Busch said. “He was probably the third-best car. Harvick was the best car, and we were second-best car, and I think Suarez was the third-best car. He gave us a run for our money there on that last restart.”
“The last restart I spun my tires a little bit too much and he got a really good run. I think that gave (JGR teammate and fifth-place finisher Erik) Jones an opportunity to make it three-wide going into (Turn) 1. They got into racing (each other), and I kind of got away.”
On tying Stewart with 49 wins, Busch said, “That’s awesome. You keep reaching up the ladder, and you keep reaching more milestone drivers. Tony Stewart is one of the all-time best and one of the drivers I was a fan of growing up as well. It’s awesome to tie him.”
Alex Bowman ran third, a career-best finish that left 15th in the series standings and enhanced his chances of qualifying for the Playoffs.
Harvick and Busch posted the two fastest laps in Saturday’s qualifying session, but their times were disallowed because of subsequent inspection failures—along with those of 11 other drivers. Busch started 28th and Harvick 29th.
Harvick won Stage 2, but the Toyotas of Busch, Suarez, Jones, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. pitted three laps before the end of the stage and stayed out under the subsequent caution, putting Harvick back in traffic for a restart on Lap 106.
A collision with Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola on pit road sent Harvick to the back of the field once more, but he was able to drive up to fourth before running out of laps at the finish.
“It definitely changed the course of the race,” Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief, said of the Toyotas pitting en masse before the end of Stage 2. But Stevens demurred when asked if it was a group decision.
Suarez did all he could to catch his teammate after Busch took the lead on Lap 108 of 164, but to no avail.
“Sometimes, as a driver, you’re on offense, or you are on defense, and myself, in the second part of the race, I was most of the time on offense, and I was just attacking as hard as I can,” Suarez said. “Many times, my spotter was telling me what was going on behind me, and one or two times I was very, very close to telling him, ‘Hey, I don’t care what’s going on behind me—just tell me what’s going on with the 18 (Busch).
“You know, we did a good job. I feel like we put ourselves in position. We just have to put ourselves in position more often. If this starts to happen often, we are going to get one. We just have to keep working hard, and maybe next time we can get a little bit more help from behind. I feel like that was all it was going to take, just a little bit more push.”
Busch held a comfortable lead over Suarez on Lap 154, when Wallace, running 22nd at the time, slammed into the Turn 1 wall with bone-jarring impact.
“No brakes—oh (expletive)!,” Wallace screamed over his radio as his car lurched to the left at the end of the frontstretch, slid through the grass and smashed into the SAFER barrier on the passenger’s side. A tense minute passed before Wallace lowered his window net; he was conscious and able to move within the car.
Wallace climbed from the crippled car with the aid of safety workers and sat on the asphalt, his back against the driver’s door, and climbed into a waiting ambulance for a trip to the infield care center.
“Hardest one of my career,” Wallace said of the impact. “I was just telling them here (in the care center) there is no feeling like being helpless in that situation going off into Turn 1, and it scared the hell out of me. I didn’t know if I was going to remember if I hit or not, so we are good.
“Bit my cheek, banged my foot off the pedal. I’m OK, though. I’ll wake up tomorrow and be a little sore, but the safety has come a long way. It’s good to be able to climb out of the car. The EMT’s were worried that I didn’t let the window net down fast enough, and I was like ‘Hell, that was the last thing I thought about—I’m sorry.’
“Everything was good. They gave me an ultrasound—no twins or anything, so I’m good.”