Kyle Busch steals Cup Series win at Talladega

Published 9:09 pm Sunday, April 23, 2023

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) — Running low on fuel and unsure he could make it to the end of a double-overtime finish, Kyle Busch and his new Richard Childress Racing team debated their late-race Talladega Superspeedway strategy.

If he stopped for a splash of gas, Busch would surrender valuable track position and essentially concede any chance at racing for Sunday’s win.

Not stopping meant he’d be at the front of the field for the final restart, but with zero guarantee he had enough gas to complete two laps or challenge for the victory. As the debate raged, crew chief Randall Burnett called Busch in for fuel at the last second.

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“Too late,” replied Busch, who couldn’t make the pit road entrance when he finally received the message.

The gamble and miscommunication paid off when Busch won under caution and in double overtime for his second win of the season and second at Talladega — 15 years after his other victory on NASCAR’s biggest and fastest track.

“In my own mind, I was like there’s no way you come to pit road and just throw away your day. Like, your day is done,” Busch said. “So I was just like, ‘Why not just take the chance?’ And so he said ‘Pit, pit, pit’ and it was too late, anyway.

“But also, I wouldn’t have anyway. I would have just taken the chance and said ‘You know what? Roll the dice. Let’s go.’”

Busch, who spent 15 years driving for Joe Gibbs Racing before an offseason move to Richard Childress Racing, gave car owner Childress his 13th victory at Talladega. The bulk of those wins came from the late Dale Earnhardt, but Childress had last won at Talladega with Clint Bowyer in 2011.

Childress entered the post-race news conference carrying an open bottle of champagne from his vineyard.

“I think my stomach was in knots, but not as bad as the crew chief,” Childress said. “Kyle said, ‘Look, we done made this deal, we done made our decision, let’s ride it out no matter what.’ He just stayed out. We were on the border of running out of fuel. I was just holding my breath. It wasn’t going to be fun if we run out of fuel.

“But Talladega has been so great to RC. I raced here in 1969. One of the biggest breaks I got. I left here with about $1,500, $2,000, thought I’d never have to work again. Here I am still racing.”

Busch won under caution when Bubba Wallace surged into the lead but tried to block good friend Ryan Blaney three times — and the third block caused the race-ending wreck.

“Sometimes you’ve got to be lucky. Some of these races come down to that,” Busch said. “You’ve got to take them when they come to your way.”

NASCAR had to examine the final finishing order as Busch celebrated at the finish line. There were 57 lead changes.

Blaney for Team Penske was scored second and seemed frustrated with Wallace’s blocks.

“In my mind you kind of triple move like that, triple block, and you can’t block three times,” Blaney said. “Runs are just so big, and as the leader with Bubba, he’s trying to block which is the right thing to do, but I think he kind of moved three times. You don’t really get a lot of those. I’ve got to go somewhere.”

Wallace, who had team owner Michael Jordan watching from his pit stand, accepted responsibility.

“Close, close, close block,” he said. “Not (Blaney’s) fault. I honestly thought that he would leave me high and dry coming back around. Hate it I caused that one. Man, I thought it would play out a little different, obviously not getting wrecked.”

Chase Briscoe from Stewart-Haas Racing was third, followed by Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski of RFK Racing as Ford drivers were second through fifth.

Erik Jones of Legacy Motor Club was sixth in a Chevrolet, followed by William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports and finally Christopher Bell, the highest-finishing Toyota driver at eighth.

The race was fairly clean and the first multi-car accident didn’t occur until 48 laps remaining when Noah Gragson ran into the back of Harrison Burton, the leader at the time, to trigger a five-car crash.

The next caution was with five laps remaining when Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. gave Corey Lajoie a big push that rammed Lajoie into Joey Logano and sent Logano spinning into the wall.

That sent the race to its first overtime, which was an immediate disaster.

Ross Chastain shoved his car into the middle for a third lane and his car bounced off Gragson, who hit the wall to trigger the crash. Kyle Larson was knocked into the grass and his car shot back into the middle of traffic for a full-contact hit of Ryan Preece.

“Definitely probably one of the hardest hits that I’ve ever taken in my racing career,” said Preece, whose visor on his helmet was knocked open with the hit.

Larson said he was fortunate he was not injured. The impact from Preece’s car bent the roll cage on the right side of Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet.

“Thankfully, I’m OK,” Larson said. “My car is absolutely destroyed. The cockpit’s a mess.”

That seventh caution sent Kevin Harvick, pole-sitter Denny Hamlin and Chastain to pit road for fuel to ensure they could compete in second overtime. When the race went green, it was Ty Gibbs who was out of gas and he immediately pulled out of line. Busch surged into the lead. Wallace briefly pushed ahead until he was spun by Blaney, and Busch got his second win of the season.