With a dominating performance at a track he has learned to love, Kyle Busch cruised to his fourth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season in Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Busch led a race-high 79 of 160 laps — including the final 21 after a cycle of green-flag pit stops — in collecting his second straight win at the 2.5-mile triangular track and his third overall, all three of which have come in the last four events after years of frustration at the Tricky Triangle.
With his 55th victory in the series, Busch tied NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace for ninth on the career win list. Next above him is the late Dale Earnhardt, who won 76 races. It was the ninth triumph in 14 races this season for Joe Gibbs Racing, equaling the organization’s total from 2018.
“I just can’t say enough about everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing,” Busch said in Victory Lane. “Everybody that works there works so hard to build these awesome Camrys. … We’ve had an amazing roll this year here so far. We’ve been doing well.
“We feel like we’ve kind of given away a couple of wins that we thought we had a shot for, but overall, it’s been awesome to get back to Victory Lane here. Pocono’s been a struggle, but it’s a lot better now.”
Not even a late caution on Lap 147, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. pounded the outside wall in the Tunnel Turn, could interrupt the flow of Busch’s race. After the subsequent restart on Lap 152, the No. 18 JGR Toyota gradually pulled away from Brad Keselowski, who shot past Erik Jones into the runner-up position on the restart.
Busch crossed the finish line 2.224 seconds ahead of Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford. Jones held the third position, followed by Chase Elliott, who recorded his fifth consecutive top-five result. Clint Bowyer completed the top five.
On an earlier restart on Lap 73, Bowyer charged past Busch into the lead, but two laps later, Busch surprised the Stewart-Haas driver with a pass to the outside in Turn 3. That move was emblematic of the superiority of Busch’s car throughout the race.
“I passed one guy on the outside of Turn 3, and that was the only guy I needed to pass, I guess,” Busch said. “It was hard otherwise. We kind of got stuck back in traffic a little bit earlier in the race, like in fifth or sixth, and couldn’t really do anything.”
The stellar work of Busch’s over-the-wall crew, however, gained positions on pit road.
“Overall, my guys on pit road were awesome and picked up some spots there,” Busch said. “(Crew chief) Adam Stevens and some of his race calls got us up closer to the front. Cool to get a win at Pocono again.”
It also helped that Busch’s closest competition, Kevin Harvick, had to serve a pass-through penalty for a tire violation, after the right front that came off the car rolled out of the No. 4 Ford’s pit stall during a two-tire stop on Lap 123. A broken steering box compounded Harvick’s problems and relegated him to a 22nd-place finish.
Keselowski got the best possible finish out of a car that wasn’t the equal of Busch’s.
“We didn’t have speed enough to pass guys, but we could run with them,” Keselowski said. “We wanted a little bit more to be able to pass everybody, but you had to be so much faster that you just try to execute the best you can and hope things fall the right way.
“They fell decent, just not good enough to win today.”
Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Daniel Suarez, pole winner William Byron and Aric Almirola completed the top 10. Kyle Larson won the first two stages but cut across the nose of Bowyer’s Ford and bounced off the wall near the exit from Turn 1 late in the race. Larson finished 26th, one lap down.