Busch ends skids, wins JGR’s 100th

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

LONG POND, Pa. — 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 vic­to­ries over three se­ries and an elite ride for Joe Gibbs Rac­ing.

He can add two more feats to the list — 13 con­sec­u­tive

years with a Cup vic­tory and his first check­ered flag at Po­cono.

Busch used a bump-an­drun 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 vic­tory since its 2007 de­but. Busch had Toy­ota’s first Cup vic­tory in March 2008 at At­lanta Mo­tor Speed­way.

Busch had never gone a full sea­son with­out win­ning a race. Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way is 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 vic­tory 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.

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.

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