Busch ends win­less sea­son with Cup vic­tory at Po­cono

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS - — AP

Kyle Busch watched the num­ber of laps he’s led this sea­son tick, tick, tick as it crossed 1,000, and he only re­ally cared about the lap he hadn’t led: the last one. “We’ve had speed. We’ve been right there,” Busch said. “We’ve been able to do what we should be do­ing and that’s run­ning up front.”

For all that time up front, Busch also had the long­est los­ing streak of his ca­reer, a rare re­ces­sion over his time build­ing a re­sume even NASCAR Hall of Famers would envy, with the 2015 Cup cham­pi­onship, 176 wins over three se­ries and an elite ride for Joe Gibbs Rac­ing.

He can add two more feats to the list - 13 straight years with a Cup win and his first check­ered flag at Po­cono. Busch used a bump-and-run on Kevin Har­vick to take the lead with 16 laps left and held on to snap a 36-race los­ing streak and win the NASCAR Cup race at Po­cono Race­way on Sun­day. “I never thought this day would hap­pen,” Busch said. Busch won from the pole and gave Toy­ota its 100th Cup win since its 2007 de­but. Busch had Toy­ota’s first Cup win in March 2008 at At­lanta Mo­tor Speed­way. Busch had never gone a full sea­son with­out win­ning a race. Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way is now the only track where he’s failed to win a Cup points race.

“I wasn’t sure which one was go­ing to be last,” he said. Busch had seven top-five fin­ishes this sea­son and was run­ner-up to Austin Dil­lon in the Coca Cola 600 at Char­lotte. All the near misses have gnawed at Busch, who won the All-Star race - at Char­lotte. But the ex­hi­bi­tion race doesn’t count in the sea­son stand­ings and Busch was in a vic­tory slump that dated to the 2016 Brick­yard 400. He was rac­ing for the lead last week­end in the Brick­yard 400 when he wrecked with Martin Truex Jr., which led to a pit road al­ter­ca­tion be­tween mem­bers of both teams. He also won his 176th ca­reer NASCAR race over the Cup (39), Xfin­ity (89) and Truck (48) se­ries. “We’ve all been fight­ing all year long and just wasn’t sure why,” Busch said. “This is some­thing I’ve been wait­ing for for a long, long time. It’s been a frus­trat­ing year but an awe­some day to­day.”

Har­vick fin­ished sec­ond, fol­lowed by Truex, Denny Ham­lin and Brad Ke­selowski. Har­vick, who hasn’t won in 34 ca­reer races at Po­cono, said he had noth­ing for Busch down the stretch.

“There was no bat­tle. He was way faster than we were,” Har­vick said. Crew chief Adam Stevens made the right calls a week af­ter his con­fronta­tion on pit road with mem­bers of Truex’s team. JGR sus­pended two of Truex’s tire chang­ers be­cause of the pro­fane out­burst at the Brick­yard. JGR pro­vides the pit crew for Fur­ni­ture Row Rac­ing as part of a tech­ni­cal al­liance, giv­ing them the au­thor­ity to sus­pend mem­bers of the FRR team.

Busch earned a spot in NASCAR’s play­offs, a sig­nif­i­cant vic­tory that left just three open spots with five races left be­fore the 16-driver field is set. JGR had been win­less over­all un­til Ham­lin won two weeks ago at New Hamp­shire. “I didn’t fear we wouldn’t make the Chase with our points po­si­tion,” Stevens said.

Sa­man­tha Busch was stressed about her hus­band’s sea­son, tweet­ing be­fore the race , “160 laps. We haven’t even started and I’m a ball of nerves. Please let this be the day for the 18!” It was. She was in tears over the fi­nal laps and cel­e­brated in vic­tory lane a win that her hus­band ded­i­cated to his late grand­mother.

Up next, a run at a sec­ond cham­pi­onship. “I think our stats and our runs and our speed shows for it­self,” Busch said. Other items of note at Po­cono:

NASCAR found a loose lug nut on the 18 and Stevens could be fined $10,000. He does not face a sus­pen­sion.

THE BIG ONE

An eight-car wreck on the first lap knocked Aric Almirola and Matt DiBenedetto out of the race. Matt Kenseth got loose and spun to trig­ger the ac­ci­dent. Almirola missed two months of the sea­son with a frac­tured ver­te­bra suf­fered in a race at Kansas. “Sort of a bum­mer not to even make a whole lap,” he said.

Jim­mie Johnson wrecked and did not fin­ish for the third time in the last four races. Johnson con­nected with Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports team­mate Kasey Kahne and was spun into the wall. The seven-time Cup cham­pion also crashed out of the first Po­cono race in June. NASCAR held qual­i­fy­ing be­fore the race in­stead of ear­lier in the week­end. Po­cono had no Cup cars on the track Fri­day dur­ing the con­densed sched­ule. NASCAR will try the two-day show again next week at Watkins Glen and Oct. 29 at Martinsville.

“Just thank­ful for the op­por­tu­nity to have the two-day shows,” Busch said. “We love spend­ing time with our fam­i­lies, and be­ing on the road, that is some­times dif­fi­cult.” The se­ries shifts to the road course at Watkins Glen. Ham­lin is the de­fend­ing race win­ner.

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