Barely more than three hours after the Pocono crowd greeted Kyle Busch with a chorus of boos during driver introductions, Kyle Busch made converts of the fans in the grandstands – at least a large portion of them – with a spectacular burnout after his long-awaited victory in the Overton’s 400.
Benefitting from a splendid pit call by crew chief Adam Stevens, Busch charged through the field after his final stop and pulled away to beat runner-up Kevin Harvick to the finish line by a whopping 6.178 seconds, breaking a career-long 36-race drought and giving Toyota its 100th victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The win was Busch’s first at Pocono Raceway, leaving Charlotte Motor Speedway as the only active Cup track the driver of the No. 18 Camry hasn’t conquered.
Having won his fourth Pocono pole earlier in the day – on the first instance where the Monster Energy Series drivers have qualified and raced on the same day in NASCAR’s modern era – Busch recorded the 39th victory of his career when he took the checkered flag.
“It’s been a frustrating year, but an awesome day today,” Busch said in Victory Lane. “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.”
Harvick came to pit road for the final time on Lap 124. Eventual third-place finisher Martin Truex Jr. pitted two laps later, leaving Busch on the track to lead 10 of his race-high 63 laps in clean air.
When Busch finally hit pit lane on Lap 135, he left with fresher tires than those on the cars ahead of him and in short order, picked off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, who finished fourth, and Truex.
Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens had discussed the strategy before the race.
“I knew what he was thinking and that’s what it all came down to,” Busch said. “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 caught Harvick in Turn 3 on Lap 144 of 160, and when Harvick got loose and slowed in the corner, Busch gave the No. 4 Ford an inadvertent shot to the rear bumper. Busch flashed past Harvick and was gone.
“The only chance that I had was to get into the corner correctly,” Harvick explained. “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.
“I was trying to stay on the bottom to park the thing to get going and he had a good run. 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 Toyotas all day.”
Busch collected his eighth stage win of the season when he took the green/checkered flag at the end of Lap 50, and the victory gave him an additional five playoff points, bringing his season total to 13, tied for third in that category with Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski.
Clint Bowyer collected his first stage win of the season on Lap 100, after Truex, Busch, Harvick and Hamlin all came to pit road just before the end of the stage to set up their prospects for a race win. Bowyer finished sixth behind Keselowski.
Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth (who recovered from a spin in Turn 3 on the first lap) and Chase Elliott completed the top 10.
Check out the unofficial results of the Overton’s 400 at Pocono Raceway.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!