KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kyle Busch has seemingly dozens of reasons to despise Kansas Speedway, from the two times he crashed out of Chase races to the innumerable misfortunes in other series.
Now he has one big reason to speak fondly of it.
Busch sailed away from Kevin Harvick after a late wreck collected several of the leaders Saturday night, and finally won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race at one of three tracks that had eluded him.
“I didn’t know we’d have that much speed in our race car. I guess I should have known,” said Busch, who still needs to win at Charlotte and Pocono to knock off every current track in the series. “We had a top-five car in the middle part of the race. We kept making improvements to it, kept making it better.”
Busch won for the third time this season, and gave team owner Joe Gibbs his sixth victory already this season. But this one may have been the sweetest given Busch’s history at Kansas.
“This is a place that’s been tough on me over the years, and probably almost caused me to go into retirement,” Busch said, laughing. “There’s been a lot of rough days at Kansas, that’s for sure.”
Harvick was second after making major changes to his car following a poor qualifying effort. Kurt Busch was third, Matt Kenseth finished fourth and Ryan Blaney wound up fifth.
“You know, it’s our best finish of the year. That’s the bright side,” said Kenseth, who was alongside Busch on the final restart with 19 laps to go. “I thought we were as good as the 18 if we could have had position, but it was tough restarting on that bottom.”
Martin Truex Jr. won his first pole in two years and looked like he’d be the one to finally get the victory that has eluded him at Kansas, drawing away for big leads on every restart.
He still had a comfortable lead entering the final round of scheduled stops with 54 laps to go, but Truex radioed to his team that he had a loose wheel after leaving his stall. He had to come down pit road again and dropped off the lead lap, another late-race gaffe costing him a chance to win.
Truex led 95 laps at Kansas last spring, but fuel and tire strategy conspired left him ninth. His team also made a strategic mistake that cost him earlier this season at Texas.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “Went around 1 and 2 and was like, ‘Damn, the wheel is loose.’ I kept telling myself maybe it’s not. … Frustrating but that’s how it goes.”
Tony Stewart briefly took the lead in his return to the No. 14 full-time, but everything changed when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. slapped the wall moments later. That bunched up the field and ultimately led to the only major wreck after last weekend’s crash-filled race at Talladega.
Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin got sideways going through a corner, and that forced Kyle Larson into the wall. Joey Logano had nowhere to go, slamming into Hamlin and ending both of their nights.
“I was just going for it. We got to win. It’s win or nothing with this type of format, so why not go in there and take a chance?” said Hamlin, who admitted to pressing the issue after two speeding penalties on pit road cost him track position. “I have to get better on pit lane to give us a chance.”
Logano was strong once again after winning two of the past three races at Kansas.
“It’s just racing, the end of a race,” he said. “It kind of stinks, two weeks in a row I’m walking out of the infield care center. … It’s just racing. Things happen.”
Busch elected to stay on the track to protect his position, rather than pit for tires, hoping that the clean air of running in front would pay off. It was a risky gamble by crew chief Adam Stevens, but one that he was willing to make to change his team’s fortunes at Kansas.
“It’s always cool to get to Victory Lane, but to knock off another place we haven’t won at is really special,” Stevens said. “He’s had a really storied career and done a lot of great things, and to help him accomplish one of the things he hadn’t done is really cool.