Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service  

JOLIET, Ill. – Like two boxers in the final round of a closely-contested slugfest, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson traded hard shots on the last lap of Sunday’s Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Moments later, it was Kyle Busch who was still standing—with his car parked on the finish line and his fifth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season in his pocket.

In the closing three laps, Larson gained on Busch, who had led from a restart on Lap 213 of 267. Busch was slowed by lapped traffic, and Larson had a strong run into Turns 1 and 2 on the final lap. Larson drove hard into the corner but couldn’t clear Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry off Turn 2.

JOLIET, IL – JULY 01: Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Red White & Blue Toyota, celebrates after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on July 1, 2018 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Larson tapped the left rear of Busch’s car, knocking him into the outside wall. Larson passed Busch on the backstretch, but the 2015 series champion wasn’t finished. Busch got back to the bumper of Larson’s No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in Turn 3 and sent him spinning with a hard shot to the rear of the car.

Larson slid sideways, as the momentum of Busch’s charge into the corner carried his car into the outside wall. But Busch straightened his Camry and powered across the finish line 1.875 seconds ahead of Larson, who recovered to beat third-place finisher Kevin Harvick to the stripe by a half-second.

With his second victory at Chicagoland, Busch earned the 48th victory of his career, tied with Herb Thomas for 14th all-time and one win behind three-time champion Tony Stewart. Busch tied Harvick for the most victories in the series this season, marking only the fourth time in series history that two drivers have each won five times in the first 17 races. Busch appeared to be cruising to a one-second victory before Ryan Newman raced him hard trying to stay on the lead lap and a pack of lapped cars in front of him clogged the track.

“I got really boxed in and got really slow,” Busch said. “I tried to get all of it on those last couple of laps. Larson tried to pull a slider but didn’t quite complete it. He slid up into me and used me, and then I kind of used him a little bit in Turn 3 to come back for the victory.

“Great win for the Skittles Camry and all of these guys. We were horrible today. Absolutely horrendous. We just never gave up. It’s always good to make the most of the days and get to where we needed at the end. I was able to lead all of those laps. And get through the rest of the traffic. If you don’t like that kind of racing, don’t even watch.”

The last lap aside, a major key to Busch’s victory was stellar work on pit road. After the final stop under caution on Lap 209, Busch beat Harvick back on track to take the lead and held it the rest of the way.

Even though Busch knocked him out of the way in the final corner for the win, Larson held no hard feelings.

“Yeah, I was fighting hard to catch him and had a really good car especially on the long runs,” Larson said. “We were able to get the top going and finally run him down. Yeah, the lappers bottled him up pretty bad there, and I was able to get a run on him. He changed his line up there for a couple of laps in a row, and I got a big run and went to throw the slider on him and got really tight.

“My plan was pretty much to run into the side of him to try and slow his momentum down and was able to do that and get clear of him. I didn’t really want to be clear of him in (Turn) 3, though, because I knew he would get to my back bumper and move me out of the way, which he did. So, I mean, I know some fans probably already don’t like Kyle Busch, but that was just kind of hard racing there, I thought.”

Martin Truex Jr. finished fourth but failed to lead a lap. Clint Bowyer recovered from three extra trips down pit road because of penalties to run fifth. Erik Jones, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Alex Bowman completed the top 10.

Notes: Aric Almirola won the first 80-lap stage of the race—his first career stage win—before two unscheduled pit stops for loose wheels took him out of contention… Harvick won Stage 2, his ninth stage victory of the season… Kyle Busch won the race without scoring a point in either of the first two stages.

Kyle Larson blisters the field on steamy day in Chicagoland

JOLIET, Ill. – When Kyle Larson crossed the finish line at Chicagoland Speedway 8.030 seconds ahead of runner-up Kevin Harvick, there were no screams of elation from the winner of Saturday’s Overton’s 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

Instead, Larson placed an order.

“Water, ice and towel at the start/finish line,” Larson radioed to his team, after winning a race in mind-numbing heat that approached 150 degrees in the greenhouse of his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro.

Larson had won the pole earlier in the day but had to start from the rear of the field because of a flat right front tire that required changing before the race. That proved only a temporary deterrent.

By the end of the first 45-lap stage, Larson had driven up to sixth place, and on Lap 72, he made a three-wide pass of Harvick and Christopher Bell to take the lead for the first time.

The 25-year-old Californian went on to lead a race-high 80 laps and took advantage of an 80-lap green-flag run to the finish to win for the first time at Chicagoland, the second time this season and the 10th time in his career.

“Yeah, it was pretty hot,” Larson said in the understatement of the week. “But the adrenaline was kicking in. I can’t say enough about this race car. We were really bad (Friday in practice), so it’s cool we could win.

“We were able to get our car better for today. These guys (the No. 42 team) never quit. The pit crew was amazing. That was really a key there, I thought, to get some track position after falling back to fourth (after the restart following the end of Stage 2).”

In fact, Larson gained two positions on pit road under a caution for debris in Turn 4 on Lap 114 and restarted third on the bottom on Lap 121. He cleared the fourth-place car of Christopher Bell on the restart and took off in pursuit of Harvick, who had assumed the lead.

“I was able to stay pretty close to Harvick on the bottom,” Larson said. “I felt like, if the race stayed green, I would eat him up.”

Indeed, after the tires began to wear, Larson moved to the top of the track, where he was unstoppable. On Lap 142 he surged past Harvick into the lead and extended his advantage to more than four seconds before a cycle of green-flag pit stops that started on Lap 166.

When the cycle ended with Brandon Jones’ stop on Lap 180, Larson was up by 9.490 seconds. From that point on, it was a cruise to the finish—in a steam bath.

“I needed a short run there, for sure,” said Harvick, who led 38 laps. “The Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford was really good there for about 25 laps, and Kyle would struggle for 25 laps. I just didn’t need it to go green.

“I just couldn’t run the top. I would slide the front tires, and I didn’t have enough rear grip to throttle through the center of the corners. My car wouldn’t turn, but on the bottom.”

And the bottom lane wasn’t the fast way around the 1.5-mile track when the tires began to wear. Cole Custer ran third and took the series lead from sixth-place Elliott Sadler, who fell to third in the standings behind Custer and fifth-place finisher Daniel Hemric. Daniel Suarez came home fourth in his second Xfinity start of the season.

Justin Allgaier ran seventh, followed by Paul Menard and Chase Briscoe, who scored his first career top-10 in the series. Chase Elliott was 10th and paid a quick visit to the infield care center before Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying for some IV fluids.

“I feel a lot better now,” Elliott said on his way out of the care center. “Those IVs make you feel like a million bucks.”

JOLIET, IL – JUNE 30: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 ENEOS Chevrolet, poses with the Pole Award after posting the fastest lap during qualifying for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Overton’s 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 30, 2018 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
JOLIET, IL – JUNE 30: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 ENEOS Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Overton’s 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 30, 2018 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)