Kyle Busch holds off Harvick for Texas win
FORT WORTH, Texas — Kyle Busch finally ended a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race happy, winning the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, April 8, by holding off Kevin Harvick over the closing laps.
It was the 44th series win for Busch, who had finished second or third in the previous four Cup races even as Harvick had already won four times this season.
It was also the first win of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing, considered the top Toyota team in the sport.
"My guys were awesome on pit road," Busch said. "Adam (Stevens, the crew chief) and the guys gave me a great car.
"I can't say enough about these guys. It was rocking today."
A point of controversy in the upcoming weeks is going to be the NASCAR-issued pit guns, which Harvick blamed for his up and down day, calling them "pathetic," and "embarrassing for the sport."
Kurt Busch started from the pole after truncated qualifying Friday made his fast lap in the first round stand up. He was passed on the first lap by teammate Harvick, who got into the low preferred line around the track as Busch went high.
With a cold track and cold tires—the temperature at race start was 46 degrees—and drivers jockeying for position, the first crash of the day happened on Lap 2 when Alex Bowman got down on the apron and the rear of his car swung right.
When defending series champion Martin Truex Jr.'s crash on Lap 81 took him out of the race, Harvick won Stage 1 under caution, dominating it by leading 74 of 85 laps. It was his fourth stage win of the season, tops in the Cup Series.
On a track that doesn't afford much green-flag passing, fast pit stops were critical, and even more important was getting on and off pit road mistake-free. That was too much to ask on the first round of stops for contenders Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson.
Blaney and Hamlin were too fast entering pit road and served pass-through penalties, taking them from being among the leaders to the middle of the pack, with Hamlin soon going a lap down. Johnson's crew didn't get his right-front wheel on tight and he had to pit again to tighten it up, relegating him to two laps down as Stage 1 wound down.
When Stage 2 opened for green-flag racing on Lap 91, Kyle Busch re-started in first after a faster pit stop than Harvick, who came out second. Busch held the lead starting from the outside line and kept it until Lap 116, when Harvick flew by on the low line through Turns 1 and 2.
But the 1.5-mile D-shaped oval proved treacherous throughout the race, with Kyle Larson blowing a right front tire and hitting the wall hard between Turns 1 and 2 on Lap 126.
On the ensuing pit stops, Harvick dropped eight spots and came out ninth, then Harvick lost a lap when he had to pit with a loose wheel but he slowly made his way back to be in contention until the end despite more pit-road foibles. With Kurt Busch taking over the lead and younger brother Kyle re-starting second when Harvick fell back, Kurt broke out on top and kept the lead until Lap 166 when Kyle passed him to win Stage 2 four laps later, his second stage win of the season.
On the restart on Lap 178 after Stage 2 with Erik Jones leading, seven cars had a big pileup, including Hamlin, Trevor Bayne, Brad Keselowski, Johnson, David Ragan, Aric Almirola and Dillon, bringing out the red flag and a race stoppage of 11 minutes, 4 seconds for cleanup.
The Cup series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn., next Sunday for the Food City 500 at the half-mile bullring oval for the second short-track race of the season.