June 28, 2015
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
SONOMA, Calif. – Check the box. Kyle Busch has a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory.
That simple statement hardly plumbs the depth of emotion Kyle Busch was feeling after winning Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
In the first-ever 1-2 finish in the series by the Busch brothers, Kyle Busch beat Kurt Busch to the finish line by .532 seconds to win for the first time since returning from an 11-race absence because of a broken right leg and left foot sustained in a Feb. 21 accident at Daytona International Speedway.
“First Busch brothers 1-2, boys,” Kyle Busch exulted on his radio after taking the checkered flag. “Mom and Dad should be proud.”
On Lap 106 of 110, Kyle Busch muscled Jimmie Johnson out of the way and took the lead on the way to his second victory at the 1.99-mile road course and the 30th of his career. Johnson had stayed out on old tires while Busch joined a parade to pit road for new rubber after the left rear wheel assembly separated from Casey Mears Chevrolet to cause the fifth and final caution of the race on Lap 99.
Johnson led the field to a restart on Lap 104, but the cars with fresh tires soon asserted their superiority, with Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer, reigning series champion Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano all following Kyle Busch in putting the six-time champion behind them.
Kyle Busch restarted seventh and got past Bowyer, the eventual third-place finisher, soon thereafter in heavy traffic at the top of the hill in Turn 2. Two laps later, he passed Johnson for the lead.
All told, 46 races had passed since Kyle Busch last went to Victory Lane in NASCAR’s premier series, including the 11 he missed because of the Daytona injuries. Busch last won at Fontana, Calif., on Mar. 23, 2014. The victory extends his streak of winning at least one race per year to 11 years.
More significant, the triumph gives Busch the first element he needs to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Busch also must finish in the top 30 in the series standings after 26 races in order to maintain his eligibility for NASCAR’s playoff.
With the win, Busch gained two positions in the standings to 37th, 136 points behind 30th-place Cole Whit with 10 races left in the regular season.
“Yeah, we have our work cut out for us,” he said. “We knew we did in the beginning (after returning to competition five races ago), and I knew we put us in the hole in points. It’s unfortunate that we’ve had a couple crashes (in recent events at Dover and Michigan).
“As much as I can do, that’s what we’re going to do. Adam Stevens, this is his first win as a Cup crew chief, so this is pretty special. My wife is here, she flew in this morning. So it’s awesome to have her with us today. Brexton (Busch’s newborn son) is at home, though. He didn’t want to fly six hours, so we let him stay at home this time. This is so cool.”
Kurt Busch led a race-high 43 laps but spent too much time getting past Bowyer in the closing laps to have a realistic chance to catch his brother. But his disappointment at finishing second was trumped by empathy for the ordeal Kyle has endured this season.
“It was emotional,” Kurt Busch acknowledged. “I know he’s been through quite a bit; to have your leg broken, your foot shattered, to never (before) be injured and out of the car … I don’t know what that feels like, but I do know that working with Tony Stewart and having him go through rehab, rehab is very difficult, and it is a mental challenge.
“And I’m very proud of Kyle for what he’s done to get back in the car as soon as he did get back in the car, and then to be competitive at a track with hard, hard braking and to use his left foot to drive to victory lane, I’m very proud of him.”
Then Kurt’s competitive juices took over, and he added, tongue-in-cheek, “I just wish I could have one more lap to get to his bumper, but I think he didn’t want to see an extra lap.”