FONTANA, Calif. – On Saint Patrick’s Day, the luck of Auto Club Speedway was fittingly with the green No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry of Kyle Busch. And on a historic day that is annually observed with celebration and partying, the magnitude of NASCAR history achieved by Busch on Sunday is immense cause for such.
Busch, 33, made NASCAR history at Auto Club Speedway as he tied motor racing icon Richard Petty at the top of the all-time NASCAR national series wins list with victory No. 200 at the 23rd Annual Auto Club 400.
Busch took his victory lap while holding a white “NASCAR 200 Wins” flag in front of the fans in the grandstands. Busch was quick to remember where his illustrious success on the MENCS circuit began. The first of his 53 MENCS was right here at Auto Club Speedway in 2005.
“It feels just like (win) No. 1. It feels just like yesterday,” Busch said. “I’m glad we put on a heckuva show for all these fans at Auto Club Speedway. Today is St. Paddy’s Day and this Interstate Batteries green machine was flying today. To win 200, whatever it means, it means a lot to me. I just hope we can keep going strong and win all of these races. I feel like we have the best team out there right now.”
Busch is NASCAR’s winningest Xfinity Series driver (94 wins), to go along with his 53 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup and 53 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series titles. All 200 of Petty’s wins came in NASCAR Cup Series racing.
Said Busch’s crew chief, Adam Stevens: “He’s going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. It’s cool to see him achieve. Now to be part of his 200th win, I hope to be there for No. 250.”
Additionally, Busch’s fourth win at the Auto Club 400 is the second-most all time and just two shy of Jimmie Johnson’s six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) race wins on Fontana’s two-mile oval.
“The original goal in NASCAR was just to try and win a race,” Busch said. “It was a special (day), just with the opportunity to win No. 1 here. And to be able to close it out and win No. 200 here is pretty cool. It certainly is a monumental moment for all of us. It’s cool to bookend No. 1 and No. 200 at the same place. And on the same asphalt, because this place has never been re-paved.”
One person who has a unique perspective on Busch’s historic accomplishment is his brother, Kurt Busch (No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet), who placed sixth after starting in 21st position. Kurt was happy to race on the same track and the moment with Kyle.
Said Kurt Busch: “He’s always been my little brother, and he was always the lazy one on the couch not doing much when we were little kids. I want to congratulate him. He just keeps going and going. I’m proud of him.”
Busch came into Fontana’s two-mile oval riding the momentum of sweeping last week’s NASCAR Xfinity and Monster Energy Cup races outside of Phoenix. He finished second in Saturday’s Production Alliance Group 300. Busch started Sunday’s race on the outside of Row 2 and first gained Sunday’s lead on Lap 13.
Similar to Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Production Alliance Group 300, Busch captured the first two stages – he won the 60-lap Stage 1 under a caution flag, leading 42 of those laps. He led 58 of 60 laps in Stage 2, including Laps 72-120, in winning the stage by more than six seconds.
Then, a violation – speeding off of pit road on Lap 123 – pushed Busch back to 18th position on a Lap 127 restart. 2015 Auto Club 400 champion Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Wurth Ford) assumed the lead for the first time. Busch incurred a pit penalty early in the final stage on Saturday which essentially cost him the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on the way to a runner-up finish.
This time, Busch made his way back to the lead on Lap 161 and, luckily, was able to pit under a caution flag four laps later in order to secure fresh tires. It was then that Keselowski pushed Busch off his line on Lap 170 and catapulted back into the lead.
Busch fell behind Keselowski and Logano but, while the two jockeyed for track position against each other, Busch passed by both in one fell swoop to vault back into the top spot on Lap 175. The front-running order never changed from there as Busch won by 2.354 seconds and led for a total of 134 laps.
Logano and Keselowski finished second and third, respectively. It is Logano’s best result in 14 career races at Auto Club Speedway. Keselowski led for 42 laps, and Logano for three.
Logano: “We (Keselowski and I) didn’t burn our tires out. We only raced for about two laps before the (No.) 18 blew our doors off. He (Busch) had the best car. We just didn’t have enough for that green car.”
Added Keselowski: “We were a little off, really, all day. We got a lot better from the first run ‘til the end. We were so strong in practice. The track changing kind of threw us for a loop, with the wind. We just never could get it right off of Turn 2 and it ended up, kind of, costing us the race there with the 22 (Logano). I couldn’t stay in front.”
Polesitter Austin Dillon (No. 3 Dow Coatings Chevrolet) fell ill on Saturday and received medical attention into Sunday morning before declaring himself fit enough to race. Yet, he lost his position in the first lap and eventually finished 10th.
2018 Auto Club 400 champion Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota), in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, started the day in 27th position and finished eighth.
Four California drivers were entered in Sunday’s Auto Club 400. Bakersfield native and 2011 Auto Club 400 champ Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford) was posted on the outside of Row 1 – his 11th top-10 start in 26 races at Auto Club Speedway – and finished fourth.
2017 Auto Club 400 champ Kyle Larson (No. 42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet), from Elk Grove, started in 15th position and wound up 12th.
El Cajon native Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Ally Chevrolet), started in 11th position and placed 17th. Matt DiBenedetto (No. 95 Procore Toyota), of Grass Valley, was right behind him in 18th.
Sunday’s Auto Club 400 was the 30th MENCS race run at Auto Club Speedway, and featured 18 lead changes among nine drivers and four caution flags, lasting 22 laps.