Kyle Busch and Richard Petty are from two different NASCAR eras. Their accomplishments can be awkward to compare. But after Sunday’s (March 17) Auto Club 400, they now stand alone as the only drivers with 200 career victories in the sport’s top three series.
Busch reached the milestone with a dominant Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, charging back from a pit road speeding penalty to win by nearly three seconds over Joey Logano. Busch out front was a rocket ship in clean air, his car near impossible to pass on a day his No. 18 Toyota had the field covered.
“Man, that was such an awesome race car,” Busch said afterward after emerging from his green Interstate Batteries Toyota. “It takes green to get in Victory Lane today. It’s Saint Patty’s Day, so all these other guys were at a disadvantage, we know that.”
Whatever the reason, Busch had superior speed from almost the drop of the green flag. Not even a pit road speeding penalty after the second stage would stop him. Busch got pushed back to 21st from the lead for the ensuing restart with 80 laps to go.
By the time the next round of pit stops came, he jumped to fifth. Then, a pit strategy call by crew chief Adam Stevens to stay out played into Busch’s hands when the final caution flag of the day waved for a blown tire from Bubba Wallace.
Busch, the only lead car who hadn’t pitted, got his edge back. He restarted near the front with the freshest tires on lap 169; he was back in front by lap 175. From there, it was smooth sailing the rest of the way.
“Sometimes, you need a little bit of luck on your side,” he said. “It certainly is a monumental moment for all of us. Maybe the stars aligned a little more perfectly today.”
Busch now ties the sport’s King, Petty, with a 200 mark that most felt was virtually untouchable. Of course, only 53 of those victories have come at the Cup level, causing debate as the record approached.
But Petty praised Busch this week while reminding observers Busch’s competition isn’t as strong in NASCAR’s feeder series. Others, including older brother Kurt Busch, were quick to congratulate and honor an accomplishment that remains special in its own way.
“A number is a number and it’s significant,” Kurt Busch said. “When you’re running Trucks, Xfinity and Cup every week, you’re wearing your body out. He just keeps going and going and I’m proud of him.”
In all, Busch led seven times for a race-high 134 laps. He’s collected 14 playoff points already in just five races, jumping a level above the Team Penske cars who chased him Sunday.
“We hung strong,” Logano said. “Just didn’t have nothing for that green car.”
“We were a little off all day,” added third-place Brad Keselowski. “Just never could get off turn 2, that cost us the race. Couldn’t stay in front.”
Kevin Harvick wound up in fourth while Ryan Blaney gave Team Penske three top-five finishers. Kurt Busch was the highest-performing Chevrolet in sixth followed by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and pole-sitter Austin Dillon.
It was a clean race with only Clint Bowyer ended the day in the garage with a blown engine. NASCAR’s new handling package again produced mixed results; solid racing mid-pack also came paired with single-file action up front.
NASCAR ends its west coast swing, then with Busch winning five of the seven races run. He earned two Cup victories (Phoenix, Auto Club), two Xfinity wins (Las Vegas, Phoenix) and one in the Truck Series (Las Vegas).
And if not for an untimely penalty the first west coast weekend? That number could have even been higher.
“Could you imagine if I won Vegas?” he said after the checkered flag. “How many wins in a row…”
Now, he’ll simply have to settle for a shot at win 201 next week at Martinsville Speedway.