It was only a matter of time.
We all knew Kyle Busch would win a race sooner rather than later. It was a matter of when, not if. He had led over 1,000 laps this season, but had failed to make the trip to victory lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. His winless streak ballooned to 36 races, more than 365 days (not counting the Monster Energy All-Star Race he won this season). But when the checkered flew on 400 miles from Pocono Raceway in the Overton’s 400, Rowdy took a bow.
SWEET, SWEET VICTORY
Do you get it? The victory was sweet because he’s sponsored by three different candies? Yeah? No? Okay, anyways. No matter how you slice it, Kyle Busch put a whoopin’ on ‘em on Sunday.
Starting from the pole for the second straight weekend and fourth time in his career at Pocono Raceway, Busch led a race-high 74 laps and won stage one to kick the race off the way he’s done multiple times this season: leading a ton of laps and putting himself in a position to win.
But it wouldn’t come easy. On lap 75, Busch got loose while running inside the top five and lost a handful of spots. He fell back to seventh place and his No. 18 M&M’s Caramel Camry didn’t handle as well as it did before the slip up. Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens didn’t give up and wound up playing the strategy game in hopes of finding victory lane. And they did just that.
The No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford got loose exiting turn three with 16 laps remaining in the 160-lap event. Busch gave Harvick a nudge, cleared him and it was all she wrote from there. Busch wound up crossing the finish line over six seconds ahead of Harvick for the win. And after a long winless streak that saw Busch win stages and lead tons of laps, he was relieved to finally close the deal.
“It’s been a frustrating year, but an awesome day today,” Busch told NBCSN in victory lane at the 2.5-mile Tricky Triangle following his 39th career MENCS win. “This is also a meaningful win for me in another way. This is the first time I’ve been to victory lane in a points-paying race since my grandmother passed away. This one’s for her, and she’s smiling down on us here today, and I appreciate that. […] I knew what (Adam Stevens) was thinking and that’s what it all came down to. We didn’t really outsmart anyone today. We just kind of played our race and our own strategy and thought about it a little differently than others, and it worked out for us.”
Busch has now led at least 74 laps in each of the last four races and has the most pole awards, second most laps led and third most top five finishes in 2017. The win at Pocono also means he’s won a points-paying event at every track on the current Cup schedule besides Charlotte (and even there, he’s won the All-Star Race).
Although he only has one win, he is now tied for third in the playoff standings with Brad Keselowski. Kyle Larson and Truex Jr. better not look in their rearview mirror, because Rowdy is coming with something to prove and a chip on his shoulder.
CENTURY MARK FOR TOYOTA
Busch’s win marked the 100th in Cup Series competition for Toyota. The Japanese manufacturer came into the top level of the sport at the start of the 2008 season with skepticism, but has wound up yielding a championship and now race wins in the triple digits.
Busch has 35 of those 100 wins, the most of any Cup driver in a Toyota. Denny Hamlin is next on that list with 27 victories, followed by Matt Kenseth with 14 and Martin Truex Jr. with eight. Toyota also has 400 NASCAR national series victories. Busch has earned 155 of them.
Toyota also pretty much dominated the whole event. Not only did they have finishes of first, third, fourth, seventh, eighth and ninth, but they led a combined 127 of the 160 laps and pretty much had a stranglehold the whole race. They were a bit slow out of the gate to start the 2017 season, but now that they have their worst races behind them, they seem to be back on top.
Kevin Harvick came home in second place, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski. Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth and Chase Elliott rounded out the top 10. Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman and Danica Patrick rounded out the top 15 when the checkered flag flew on Pocono Raceway.
Some other notable finishers include Austin Dillon in 21st, Joey Logano in 27th (pit road penalties), Ryan Blaney in 30th (right front damage), Kyle Larson in 33rd (accident), Jimmie Johnson in 35th (accident) and Aric Almirola in 38th (accident).
KEVIN THE BRIDESMAID
Kevin Harvick came home in second place for the second time at Pocono this season and the fourth time in his career. The Tricky Triangle remains one of the few tracks the Bakersfield, Ca. native has yet to win at. He could taste the victory, what would have been his first at the 2.5-mile track. But he knew Kyle Busch was coming, and he couldn’t stop the No. 18.
“I got in there and was loose all the way through the corner on entry and just kept holding the brake down, holding the brake down, holding the brake down and finally, I’m sure he thought I was going to go and I didn’t accelerate,” Harvick told NBCSN following his runner-up finish. “Kyle had the class of the field all weekend. His car was really, really fast. He got the pole. Got the win. Pretty much just charged through the field. We definitely have a little bit of work to do. I feel like we got closer and closer. I feel like we raced around all the Toyota’s all day.”
BOWYER CLOSES THE GAP
Clint Bowyer is in the midst of a fight for the final playoff spot. And his stage two win on Sunday went a long way in terms of him sliding into that 16th and final spot before Chicagoland Speedway, the first round of the playoffs, arrives.
Right before stage two concluded, Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin drug Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and a handful of others down pit road right before it closed to pit before the third and final stage began. Truex Jr. and his No. 78 team opted to forgo the playoff point for a stage win (would have been his 15th of the season) to try and set up for the race win. Obviously, it didn’t work for them. But it worked out just fine for Bowyer and the No. 14 Ford team.
The Emporia, Kan. native gained 10 points for the stage win and is now only 17 points behind Matt Kenseth for the final playoff spot. He was 33 points behind coming into Pocono, but his stage win and eventual sixth-place result helped Bowyer gain ground on the No. 20. With five races remaining before the playoffs begin, it’s going to be those two battling for the last spot.
WIN OR NO PLAYOFFS
Joey Logano had himself quite the afternoon. And it all went downhill with 36 laps to go.
While running inside the top 15 and having an “eh” day, Logano was penalized for speeding on pit road. While serving the pass-through penalty, Logano flat-spotted his tires, which forced crew chief Todd Gordon to opt to top the car off with fuel and put on fresh tires. That’s illegal to do while serving a penalty. That meant he had to come back for another pass-through penalty. When it was all over, he finished in 27th-place, one lap down in the No. 22 Ford.
He’s now 69 points behind the cutoff for the final playoff spot, meaning if it wasn’t already a must-win situation for Logano, it definitely is now. The No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil team has had their backs against the wall before, but not this bad. If he doesn’t win in the next five races, he’ll be on the outside looking in when it comes to NASCAR’s postseason. Encumbered wins matter.
Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson have had some run-ins with each other recently, but they haven’t had the miniscule beef get in the way of their performances on-track. Plus, they’re both solidly in the playoffs. But as of late, the No. 48 and No. 42 haven’t been up to par.
In three of the last four races at Pocono, Johnson has failed to finish. Earlier this summer, the brakes failed on the No. 48. Sunday afternoon, he made slight contact with his teammate, Kasey Kahne, and sustained damage unrepairable on lap 57. His day was done early.
In Larson’s last six starts, he’s finished outside the top 25 four times. Granted, he earned back-to-back second-place finishes at Kentucky and New Hampshire, respectively, but it seems as if Larson has lost some of the mojo he was overflowing with early on this season.
Next weekend, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and XFINITY Series will travel to Watkins Glen International for some road course racing. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will also be in action. Yours truly will be in upstate New York to cover all the action, so be sure to follow along on Twitter. Denny Hamlin is the defending winner of the MENCS event from the 11-turn track located in upstate New York.
NOTE: Kyle Busch’s No. 18 M&M’s Caramel Camry was found to have one lug nut unsecured post-race. The penalty for such an infraction is a monetary fine of $10,000 for the crew chief with no suspension. Stevens has been suspended previously for a lug nut infarction in 2017.