Kurt Busch entered this past weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway with a 35-race winless streak, dating back to last season’s first race at Michigan International Speedway. When the 2003 champion exited the race track, albeit a day late on Monday afternoon as inclement weather postponed the earlier-scheduled Sunday afternoon event, he left with a trophy, and a 2016 Chase playoff berth.
At the start of the final green flag stretch of the afternoon around the 2.5-mile triangular shaped track, Busch was told that his No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet was a little short on fuel and that he would have to save about two laps worth to make it to the end. While keeping eventual runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind him, Busch conserved enough fuel to win his first race of 2016, perform some victory burnouts, and drive back to victory lane.
“They said [I was] two [laps short on fuel],” Busch said to FS1 in victory lane. “These are really long straightaways at Pocono, and you have to manage saving fuel as well as maintaining lap time. So many thoughts can go through your head, but I just stuck with the checklist. I just stuck with saving fuel and watching the No. 88 behind us.”
“We just had to balance everything,” said Busch to FS1. “We had a fast car, a [suspended] crew chief, and the way the fuel mileage played out, I didn’t know if we would have enough fuel. [But] it’s a wonderful win for us. We have been so close all year. It was just a matter of putting it all together – pit crew, engines and everybody who works on these bodies, chassis, you name it. It was so much fun to drive and be competitive and be up front.”
The aforementioned suspended crew chief is Tony Gibson, who was banned from the Axalta We Paint Winners 400 this weekend due to a lug nut infraction the weekend prior at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600, dominated and won by Martin Truex Jr. The interim leader atop the pit box is a young engineer named John Klausmeier. Gibson raved about Klausmeier, saying he will be a crew chief in the Cup Series one day. The driver of the No. 41 also appreciated the rookie crew chief’s calm demeanor during the closing laps.
“I can honestly say that Klausmeier gave me the confidence,” Busch said to FS1. “He kept giving me numbers. I kept finding ways to think that I was saving fuel. I kept checking the mirror, kept checking my lap time on the dash. The spotter helped, Klausmeier helped, my past experience on saving fuel helped, and it all turned into a win.”
Following Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, and Joey Logano rounded out the top five. Keselowski was penalized early in the race due to an unapproved body modification, as his Jackman hip-checked the right side of the car, creating a dent that makes for an aerodynamic advantage. He rebounded to score another top five finish.
The rookie of the year contender, Elliott, was the dominant car all afternoon. The No. 24 led a race-high 51 laps, but was mired back in traffic when the final caution came out and crew chief Alan Gustafson opted to put on four tires instead of taking none or two. However, his time will come sooner rather than later. He has impressed many this season – myself included.
Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top ten. Some other notables included Kyle Larson in 11th, Denny Hamlin in 14th and Martin Truex Jr. in 19th. Kyle Busch (31st), Tony Stewart (34th) and Jimmie Johnson (35th) were involved in accidents, derailing days which once looked promising.
Next week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series head to the Irish Hills and Michigan International Speedway for the FireKeepers Casino 400 and Menard’s 250. The races will take place Sunday and Saturday afternoon respectively. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be at Texas Motor Speedway for the Rattlesnake 400 Friday evening.
Anybody that is in the area and has nothing to do this weekend, I highly recommend to get some tickets and go! Hit up track president Roger Curtis on twitter for any questions. He’s the best, and super friendly. Enjoy the races this weekend at MIS and TMS, everybody!
P.S. — You can listen to this week’s edition of the Victory Lane Podcast by clicking here.