“This is awesome!” Kyle Busch screamed as he crossed the finish line at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and continued a run that has grown from extraordinary to downright other-worldly.
Holding off Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano during three late-race restarts, Busch beat Logano to the finish line by .332 seconds to win Sunday's Crown Royal presents the Jeff Kyle 400 at The Brickyard.
The victory was Busch’s fourth in the last five NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, all coming after an 11-event absence to start the season, the result of a broken right leg and left foot suffered in a crash during the Feb. 21 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
“I guess Kyle’s back,” a disappointed Logano said after he race, uttering perhaps the biggest understatement in the modern era of stock car racing.
Harvick finished third, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin. Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski completed the top 10.
To the suggestion that the accident may have provided additional impetus to his comeback, Kyle Busch replied, “I just think that maybe I’ve found my happy place.
“Happy Gilmore (a movie character) – he found his happy place and he just dominated at the end, so maybe I’ve found that, too. Nothing better than being in Victory Lane. Nothing better than being in Victory Lane for one of the biggest wins of my career.
“I just want to celebrate with my team, my wife and my family.”
A quick inventory of Busch’s accomplishments shows that the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota:
- is the first to sweep both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series races at Indianapolis. Busch won the Lilly Diabetes 250 XFINITY race on Saturday with a last-lap pass of Ryan Blaney.
- gave Toyota its first victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, breaking a string of 12 straight wins by Chevrolet at the 2.5-mile track.
- won the 33rd NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of his career.
- continued his relentless advance toward the top 30 in the standings and consequent eligibility for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. In what now seems a foregone conclusion, Busch has six races to overcome a 23-point deficit to 30th-place Justin Allgaier.
“We’re a championship contending team,” Busch asserted. “We just have to be championship eligible. Thank the good Lord for bringing me back when he did. Obviously, thanking him for all the success I’ve had in my life, where I’m at and all my blessings.
“To get me back as quick as he did, to persevere through that and that deficit. We’re still continuing on. We can’t have bad days. I don’t know that any of that matters—we’re going to bask in this moment here.”
Perhaps most astounding is Busch’s ability to win three straight races at three different race tracks using three different competition packages: low-downforce at Kentucky with a 3.5-inch spoiler; standard 2015 rules at New Hampshire with a six-inch spoiler; and high-drag at Indianapolis with a nine-inch spoiler and one-inch wicker.
Logano fell just short of giving team owner Roger Penske, a 16-time Indianapolis 500 winner, his first Sprint Cup victory at The Brickyard.
“You come to Indy, and it’s all about the win,” said Logano, who took the checkered flag in the season-opening Daytona 500 this year. “You either win or finish last. It doesn’t really matter anywhere in-between. At least that’s the way I race when I come to a track like this. I feel like, at Daytona and Indy, it’s all about getting trophies and rings and making out with bricks.
“Overall, it was a good day, but second hurts. It always does.”
Jeff Gordon’s last race at The Brickyard as a full-time Cup driver—and his hopes for an unprecedented sixth victory at the 2.5-mile track—suffered an irreparable blow on Lap 50. Racing to the inside of Harvick, Bowyer’s Toyota got loose and spun.
Gordon checked up, trying to avoid Bowyer’s car, but the No. 24 Chevrolet swerved out of control into the outside wall in Turn 3. The resulting damage ended any hope of another Brickyard trophy for the four-time Sprint Cup champion.
“I was underneath Kasey Kahne and we were just racing for position,” Gordon said as his crew worked feverishly in the garage to repair the car. “I saw Bowyer get sideways. I don’t know what caused it. Me and Kasey were trying to check up to avoid it. I don’t know if he got loose or we just both got loose together. Then I just lost control and got in the wall.”
Gordon finished 42nd and lost one spot to 11th in the series standings. Without a win this season, Gordon is in jeopardy of missing the Chase and can ill-afford another day like Sunday.