One year ago entering the July race at Pocono, Kyle Busch was amidst a career-long 36 race winless streak when he finally broke through to tame the Tricky Triangle. Since last year at that point, Busch has secured 11 wins including two out of three at Pocono and just picked up his 6th win of the 2018 campaign on Sunday afternoon when he was able to out-duel Joe Gibbs Racing teammates on a pair of late restarts.
Busch started 28th on Sunday after his qualifying team as well as nearly half the field’s qualifying times were disallowed due to failed inspection. Kevin Harvick was the class of the field this weekend after his car came off the truck shoving. He blew everyone away in practice in average speed, lap times and consecutive ten-lap average. Harvick started 29th and soon worked his way into the top ten and wound up securing stage two before the trouble ensued. The No. 4 pit from the lead at the end of the second stage, but a series of cars including all the Toyota’s up front made a strategy play prior to pit road closing before the stage, which helped them gain track position entering the final stretch. That series of strategy moves set Harvick back deeper into the top 10 which would wind up costing him as in the next set of yellow flag stops Harvick, deeper in the field, had a slow stop and pulled out into his teammate Aric Almirola causing significant damage in the left rear. He had to come back on pit road while the team worked on the damage. He didn’t have quite the same speed and even after a pair of cautions, could only fight back to a 4th-place result.
Harvick was visibly frustrated and upset with not being able to secure a win with the clear-cut best car in the field. “It was eventful. I think we went to the back twice and made our way back to the front each time. We made a good race out of it, but it’s hard to swallow on a day like that when our Mobil 1 Ford was the class of the field. You never know what is going to happen on these days. It’s hard to put them together, and you win some and lose some.”
Back to Kyle Busch. On Saturday he held off teammate Erik Jones in the No. 18 Toyota Tundra for his truck team Kyle Busch Motorsports to secure his 51st win the the Camping World Truck Series tying him for first-place all-time with Ron Hornaday. Busch hit win No. 51 in just his 145th start in the series and it was his last start in the series of the season, meaning he will have to wait until 2019 to break the record which will no doubt inevitably occur. With Busch’s win in the Cup Series yesterday not only did he tie Harvick for a series-best 6 wins this season, but he tied the great Tony Stewart for 13th-place all-time with 49 wins. “You keep reaching up the ladder, and you keep reaching more milestone drivers. Tony Stewart is one of the all-time best and one of the drivers I was a fan of growing up as well. It’s awesome to tie him, ” Busch said on Sunday. The incredible wheel-man is up to 192 career wins across all three major series with 51 in the truck, 92 in Xfinity Series and now 49 at the cup level.
Busch was able to fend off Daniel Suarez, searching for his first career win that would lock him into the playoffs on both restarts, as the No. 19 was right there on his inside challenging for the lead through turn 1. Busch pulled away on the first attempt after a horrific brake failure by the No. 43 of Bubba Wallace that saw him slam into the wall violently. Another caution was brought out when two cars near the back-end of the lead lap spun forcing it to overtime. Busch was able to get ahead on the restart as the cars went three-wide into turn one with other JGR teammate Jones joining Suarez and Busch in the battle up front. Once the 18 cleared his teammates, it was off to the races as the M&M’s Caramel Camry was not going to be touched in clean air.
“Suarez, man, I can’t say enough about my teammate,” Busch said. “He was probably the third-best car. Harvick was the best car, and we were second-best car, and I think Suarez was the third-best car. He gave us a run for our money there on that last restart. The last restart I spun my tires a little bit too much and he got a really good run. I think that gave Jones an opportunity to make it three-wide going into 1. They got into racing (each other), and I kind of got away.”
Daniel Suarez came away with a career-best second place finish as did Alex Bowman who came home in third place for Hendrick Motorsports. Harvick came away fourth, Jones fifth, rookie William Byron finished 6th, Chase Elliott took home a 7th-place finish and a stage one win, Ryan Newman was 8th, Kurt Busch 9th and final JGR car Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-10.
“The Big Three” has now combined to win 16 of the first 21 races this season as Harvick & Busch now have six wins a piece, and I don’t think anyone would be surprised if both drivers ended up securing double digit victories this season. With five races remaining before the playoffs, the top three drivers continue to pile up the playoff points. The three HMS cars increased their points lead over the cut-off line as Elliott (+129), Johnson (+107) and Bowman (+56) now hold a race-plus advantage over the trailing drivers.
With a road course Watkins Glen up next week, a wrench could seriously be thrown in one of the Hendrick cars playoff hopes if a surprise winner like AJ Allmendinger, the road-course specialist, is able to secure another win in upstate New York and lock himself into the playoffs.
Kyle Busch won again on Sunday afternoon on the 2.5-mile triangle in Pennsylvania rebounding from being moved and passed for the lead in the closing laps just one week ago in New Hampshire, climbing another spot in the record books.