There was an air of inevitability to Kyle Busch’s closing run in Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway.
Busch was tracking down race leader Ryan Blaney after restarting fourth on Lap 239 of the fourth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the season. Running in Blaney's wake for 37 laps, Busch finally made the winning pass on Lap 296 of 312 and nursed his car to the finish line.
Busch’s third victory at the one-mile track and his 52nd in the series left him one win short of his goal of 200 aggregate victories across NASCAR’s three national series. Combined with Saturday’s win in the NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Phoenix, the Sunday triumph gave Busch the 12th two-race weekend sweep of his career.
Busch, Blaney and most of the rest of the front-running cars pitted for tires and fuel on Lap 221, leaving 91 laps to the finish in a race that featured a projected fuel run of 81 laps. Both made it to the finish line with room to spare, though Martin Truex Jr. charged through the field to grab second place after Blaney surrendered the lead and went into serious fuel-saving mode.
Truex made up roughly seven seconds over the last 22 laps and finished 1.259 seconds behind Busch.
“I knew before we went back green (on Lap 239), that we were going to be right on the verge (of getting to the finish on fuel),” Busch said. “You got to go race hard first and then you have to worry about fuel afterwards.
“Once I got to Blaney, I was able to save a little bit. Then I tried to take care of my tires for the rest of the traffic that we had to get through and make sure we had enough fuel to make it to the end. This makes last weekend so much stupider (in a potential victory spoiled by a pit road speeding penalty). I wish we could have swept last week, too.”
Busch can reach his stated goal of 200 combined victories next weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., where he will race in both the Xfinity and Cup events. But the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has scrupulously avoided comparisons with the record 200 victories recorded by seven-time champion Richard Petty, who posted all his wins in the Cup series.
“It's not for me to worry about,” Busch said. “It's for everyone else to discuss and talk about and argue over and debate. For myself and the career that I've had, I've been fortunate to be around a lot of top people and a lot of great sponsors.
“To work with my guys and take them to Victory Lane is what it's all about.”
Once Busch gets to his magic number, the 33-year-old from Las Vegas will set his sights on 100 wins in the Cup series. Behind Petty, David Pearson is second with 105 victories, followed by Jeff Gordon with 93.
“Might as well set your goals high, go out there and achieve,” Busch said. “Let's set it at a 100 and see if we can't get there. That would certainly put us up there with the top guys, being one of the best of the best.
“But, overall, that's a long ways to go. You’ve got to win a lot of races, a lot of years, to be able to tally up that many. I'm not quite as good as Jeff Gordon any more with being able to win 10 races a year or 13 races a year. I don't know if those deals will happen that much anymore. Last year, we gave it a shot with eight. See if we can't keep firing them off like we are right now and living the dream, baby.”
Aric Almirola, who like Blaney took two tires on the Lap 221 pit stop, ran fourth, followed by Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin and Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Kyle Larson and Kurt Busch. Jimmie Johnson came home eighth for his second top 10 and best result of the season.
Nine-time Phoenix winner Kevin Harvick drove to ninth place after an extra pit stop on Lap 234 for tires and fuel. Las Vegas winner Joey Logano rolled home in 10th.