FONTANA, Calif. — The Kyle Busch era at Richard Childress Racing began three weeks ago at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but the coronation was reserved for Sunday‘s Pala Casino 400 in the last NASCAR Cup Series race at 2-mile Auto Club Speedway.
Busch grabbed the lead from Ross Chastain on Lap 165 and regained it on Lap 180 at the end of a cycle of green-flag pit stops, as the race ran under green for the final 55 laps. He crossed the finish line on Lap 200 with a 2.998-second advantage over runner-up Chase Elliott.
The victory was the 61st of Busch‘s career, most among active drivers and ninth all-time. For the 19th straight season, Busch has won at least one NASCAR Cup Series race, breaking a tie with seven-time champion Richard Petty for the series record.
“Welcome to RCR, baby,” the No. 8 radio reported as Busch crossed the line. “First of many.”
Kyle and Kurt Busch now hold the record for most combined Cup victories by brothers with 95, one more than the total accumulated by Bobby and Donnie Allison.
Coincidentally, Busch claimed the first Cup win of his career at Auto Club, the bulk of whose property was recently sold — with plans to replace the 2-mile speedway with a short track.
Busch‘s victory at Auto Club came in his second start in the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR, the team he joined after 15 seasons and two series championships with Joe Gibbs Racing.
“I can‘t thank Richard and Judy (Childress) enough, Austin (Dillon) for calling me and getting me talking and getting me the opportunity to come over here to RCR,” said Busch, who had to overcome a pit-road speeding penalty under caution on Lap 43.
“The guys did a great job. (Crew chief) Randall (Burnett) — everybody that worked so hard in the offseason. We did a lot of sim stuff, a lot of testing in general, just trying to get up to speed. There is nothing more rewarding than being able to go to Victory Lane. …
“You put yourself in a different situation and you‘re able to reward your guys. It‘s not about me always winning, but about the guys. I‘ve worked with a lot of great people who‘ve given me a lot of great opportunities in my career. It‘s awesome to be able to reward them.”
With qualifying rained out on Saturday, Elliott started 31st according to a metric formula based on owner points and performance in the previous race (the Daytona 500). Throughout the race, Elliott‘s crew made the No. 9 Chevrolet better. By race‘s end, it was competitive with the fastest cars in the field.
“Yeah, just really proud of our team,” Elliott said. “We obviously didn’t run very good there toward the end of the year last year, and just everybody really went to work hard over the winter to try and get better. Obviously, I think we still have some work to do, but it was really nice to just see a lot of that hard work pay off and have the car driving like we were wanting it to do. So that’s always a good thing. …
“Congratulations to Kyle. For him to leave and then to go get the job done like that is pretty cool. He’s always been really good to me, so happy for them and looking forward to getting to Vegas and hopefully competing for some more wins.”
Chastain led a race-high 91 laps to Busch‘s 27 and finished third after sweeping the first two stages, the second by 6.673 seconds. Chastain‘s Trackhouse Racing teammate, Daniel Suárez ran fourth, followed by Kevin Harvick in his 750th consecutive Cup Series start. Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and Joey Logano completed the top 10.
A multicar accident during a restart on Lap 86 eliminated pole-sitter Christopher Bell, as well as Ryan Preece, Aric Almirola and Tyler Reddick. Ryan Blaney, who ran at or near the front of the field in Stage 1, sustained heavy damage to his No. 12 Ford during the wreck and finished 26th.