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Images from the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the Auto Club stadium in Fontana, California

Kyle Busch Reaches 200

Mar 172019

You can now say it without hesitation. Kyle Busch is an all-time great. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was in a class of his own last Sunday afternoon under the sunny skies of Southern California’s Auto Club Speedway, where he cruised to his second consecutive Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory and reached the historic 200-win plateau in NASCAR competition. Fittingly enough, the No. 18 Camry was adorned in bright green, where a little bit of luck helped Busch get to Victory Lane on St. Patrick’s Day in the Auto Club 400.

To put it in perspective, only one driver in the history of NASCAR had reached such a milestone prior to Busch’s triumph. You may have heard of him – “The King” Richard Petty. While Petty’s mark will stand forever, given all 200 of his wins came in what we now know as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Busch’s accomplishment cannot be understated. He’s the owner of the all-time wins record in NASCAR’s other two national series – Truck (53 wins) and Xfinity (94 wins) – and continues to add to those record totals, and with his latest checkered flag on Sunday he’s now amassed 53 wins in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It’s hands down the most dynamic collection of wins in the history of the sport, and definitive proof of Busch’s exceptional talent, which many will argue is the highest we’ve ever seen. 

While stock car racing as a whole is similar in nature, there are dramatic differences across its three national series. No one vehicle is like the other, but Busch has become a master of them all. A decade ago, fresh off his 50th career NASCAR victory, Busch suggested that he’d love to reach the 200-win milestone. A decade later, he’s done exactly that, and he’s still just 33 years old. It’s well within the realm of possibility that Busch continues to drive for another 10 years, and possibly well beyond that, and there’s no reason to think he won’t stop his winning ways. Does that mean we could see the first 300-race winner in history? Perhaps, but one thing that is abundantly clear is that Busch is going to be the winningest driver in the history of the sport.

As the most controversial driver in NASCAR, who fans simply love to hate, the brash Busch takes it all in stride and continues to rewrite the history books. His victory in Fontana made him the first multiple-race winner of 2019, and he did so by sweeping all three stages. The luck he needed to win came in the form of a late caution, after Busch and his team were forced to stay out late on pit sequence in order to make up for another speeding penalty on pit road. Just two weeks ago Busch let what could have been a shot at victory in Las Vegas slip away due to the exact same infraction, but this time the gamble paid off and reclaimed the track position lost. 

Busch dropped as far back as fourth on the race’s final restart, but the long-run prowess of the No. 18 carried him back to the front and past race leader Joey Logano with 26 laps to go. That was all she wrote. Busch carried on to take the checkered flag by 2.3 seconds.

“[Win 200] feels just like number one. Feels just like yesterday. Man, that was such an awesome race car. I mean, dang! This Interstate Batteries Camry was awesome today. I’m glad we put on a heck of a show for all these fans out here in California at Auto Club Speedway.

“It takes green to get in Victory Lane today. Today is St. Patty’s day. All these other guys were at a disadvantage. The Interstate Batteries Green Machine was flying today. Just awesome. To win 200, I mean, whatever it means, it means a lot to me. It means a lot to all my guys, everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing. You guys are all the best. It’s an amazing opportunity to drive for Joe Gibbs. I cherish every minute of it, [and] love it always. Just wish that we could keep it going, keep it going like this, running strong, running well, and winning these races.”

Stage 1

The No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevy of Austin Dillon led the field to the green flag to kick off the 400 miler on the 2-mile oval, and he and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Kevin Harvick ran side-by-side all the way into Turn 3, where the field fanned out as much as five-wide on the expansive racing surface at Auto Club Speedway. When they came back around to complete the opening lap, it was the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin that was credited with the lead. Hamlin started sixth but railed the outside on both ends of the track to close in on the rear of the leaders and dive down low, going three-wide at the stripe.

Hamlin took the lead for the opening two laps until Aric Almirola used the same strategy to surge to the lead in his No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford on the outside on Lap 3. He led for seven laps until Hamlin wrestled the lead back from him. However, Hamlin’s time our front was equally short lived as Busch put the No. 18 to the front for the first time on Lap 13. He effectively controlled the race from there, returning to the front after the first round of green-flag pit stops and through the first caution of the day to win Stage 1, which also ended under yellow. Logano was second, with Hamlin third. Harvick was fourth, with Almirola rounding out the top five. The rest of the top 10 included Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney, and Daniel Hemric.

The No. 1 Monster Energy Camaro of Kurt Busch started the day in 21st, but he and his Chip Ganassi Racing team went to work on the car and got it in to perform well in race trim, which allowed Busch to climb to the verge of the top 10 by the end of the opening stage. This was Monster Energy’s home race, which meant a lot of eyes were on the No. 1 as Busch looked to remain the top Chevy in the series.

Stage 2

The second stage is where the No. 18 came to life. Kyle Busch spent the vast majority of the segment in the lead, with the exception of a couple laps for Logano. The stage started under yellow due to the late crash in the first stage, but once it went green it stayed that way. During this stretch, the Penske Racing trio of Logano, Keselowski and Blaney also showed their collective strength. To this point in the season Penske has fielded the best Mustangs in the field, and along with the Joe Gibbs Racing effort present the most formidable effort in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. 

The middle portion of the race was largely uneventful, and Busch was never threatened. All three Penske drivers were in tow at its completion, with Keselowski second, Blaney third and Logano fourth, while Almirola round out the top five. Harvick was sixth, with Jones seventh, while Kurt Busch put the No. 1 into the top 10 in eighth. Hamlin and Chase Elliott completed the top 10.

Stage 3

The pit sequence in between the second and third stage is where things almost unraveled for Kyle Busch. He was caught speeding down pit road by the slightest of margins, .04 miles per hour over as he exited, but the penalty was still in effect and dropped him to the tail end of the field. Fortunately for Busch, just 18 cars were on the lead lap, which minimized the amount of ground he’d have to make up.

Busch’s misfortune handed the lead over to Keselowski, and his No. 2 Mustang responded well to the clean air. The Penske driver paced the field for the opening 38 laps of the stage, up until the next round of pit stops. It was during this exchange where the No. 18 team chose to make their gamble. As car after car came down pit road, Busch was able to climb up the running order, all while still driving the fastest car on the track.

When the leaders came down pit road Busch stayed out and reclaimed the lead on Lap 161, just 33 laps after his penalty. Four laps later, with the No. 18 really stretching its fuel window, the caution flew after Bubba Wallace got a flat tire and debris flew on the track. It was the stroke of luck Busch and his team had hoped for and needed to get back into the hunt for victory.

The field returned to pit road for what would be the final pit stop of the race, with the No. 2 crew putting Keselowski back in the lead for the restart on Lap 170. He led for four laps until Logano got by, but then Busch rose to the top and took the lead from Logano for good on Lap 175.

Logano held on for second, while Keselowski was third. Harvick followed in fourth, while Blaney helped put all three Penske cars inside the top five. The final lap saw a thrilling battle unfold between Harvick and Kurt Busch. The No. 1 held onto fourth as they stormed down the backstretch one last time, but Harvick was aggressive in the final two turns while Busch drove a little too conservatively after a close call a couple laps prior. It proved to be costly as Blaney was also able to slip by the No. 1 before the line and ended Kurt’s top-five streak.

Nevertheless, Busch was still the top Chevy for the third time in four weeks and has carried the torch for the bowtie brand for pretty much all of the 2019 season. He was also thrilled for his younger brother’s achievement.

“This is a big day. For my little brother to have 200 wins, they’re all added up through his hard work and his dedication to perfection. Not bad for two kids with an attitude from Vegas.”

Kyle Busch added to his lead in the championship standings, which now sits at double digits for the first time this season. Kurt, meanwhile, continues to gain ground on his competitors from ninth, where’s now just three points behind teammate Kyle Larson for eighth.

Auto Club 400 Results
1. Kyle Busch, Toyota
2. Joey Logano, Ford
3. Brad Keselowski, Ford
4. Kevin Harvick, Ford
5. Ryan Blaney, Ford
6. Kurt Busch, Monster Energy Chevrolet
7. Denny Hamlin, Toyota
8. Martin Truex Jr., Toyota
9. Aric Almirola, Ford
10. Austin Dillon, Chevrolet

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Standings
1. Kyle Busch, Toyota - 237 (2 wins)
2. Joey Logano, Ford - 222 (1 win)
3. Kevin Harvick, Ford - 213
4. Denny Hamlin, Toyota - 205  (1 win)
5. Brad Keselowski - 176 (1 win)
6. Aric Almirola, Ford - 174
7. Martin Truex Jr., Toyota - 169
8. Kyle Larson, Chevrolet - 163
9. Kurt Busch, Monster Energy Chevrolet - 160
10. Ryan Blaney, Ford - 155