It took 53 laps then 72 hours and another 281 laps, but Kyle Busch snapped a 33-race winless streak in Wednesday’s Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Busch bested teammate Martin Truex Jr. by 0.468 seconds in a race that came down to fuel mileage for Busch. Busch pitted on lap 201, then stayed out during the lap 212 caution when others pitted, later pitting on lap 267. Under the guidance of crew chief Adam Stevens, Busch stretched the final tank of fuel out to run 67 green-flag laps, earning him and Stevens their first win of 2020.
“It hasn’t been a lot of fun, to be honest with you. Whenever we’ve been in the mix, we’ve had issues after issues and it wears you down knowing the potential of the team,” Stevens said. “We’ve had bad runs but not as many as the records show…it’s just been an odd year.”
“You don’t want to break a streak like KB has, especially under my eye, and it’s nice to cross that “T” and dot that “I”.”
Busch’s 33-race winless streak dated back to November 2019, when he won at Homestead to earn his second Cup title. Busch was unable to defend his championship as he was eliminated following the Round of 12 closer at the Charlotte Roval, but the pressure being off may have helped him win.
“Typically, there’s pressure and the pressure builds through every round,” Busch said. “The Round of 12 was like the Round of 8 for me trying to do everything we could to make it, but being eliminated we could run our race with no pressure.”
The Top 10 finishers were as follows: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Matt DiBenedetto, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano.
Martin Truex Jr. finished second for the fifth time in 2020 and earned his 11th Top 3 finish of the season in doing so.
Before the race began, Truex was hit with a 20-point penalty due to a spoiler issue in violation of Section 20.4.12.b. of the rulebook. Despite the issue, Truex ran well, leading 53 laps and being in position to win had Busch run out of fuel.
Truex currently sits 16 points behind the cutline heading into the Round of 8 closer at Martinsville, the site of his only win of 2020 so far.
Christopher Bell finished third Wednesday, earning his second Top 5 of the season and his best-career finish to date. Bell closed from being more than two seconds behind Truex to racing alongside him in the turns at one point.
Bell faded back to 2.8 seconds behind Truex, but his third-place finish was his second consecutive Top 10 in doing so; the first time Bell has accomplished consecutive Top 10 finishes in the Cup Series.
The Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 featured eight cautions for 47 laps and 23 lead changes among 11 drivers.
The lap leaders were as follows: Kyle Busch (90), Clint Bowyer (89), Martin Truex Jr. (53), Alex Bowman (43), Kevin Harvick (28), Ryan Blaney (20), Christopher Bell (5), Matt DiBenedetto (2), Erik Jones (2), Brennan Poole (1), Aric Almirola (1).
Turn two was treacherous early on, as the first two cautions fell for incidents in the turn, involving Chris Buescher on lap 6 and J.J. Yeley on lap 23.
The third caution fell on lap 45 for rain and preceded a 72-hour, 28-minute and 34-second rain delay, which was the longest NASCAR Cup Series delay since 1973.
The race resumed shortly after 5 p.m. ET Wednesday afternoon but it did not take long for chaos to strike. Denny Hamlin bumped Matt Kenseth off of turn four, which set off an incident on lap 61 that also involved Aric Almirola and Bubba Wallace, eliminating Kenseth and Wallace from the race.
The fifth and sixth cautions fell for debris on lap 77 and the end of Stage 1 on lap 107, respectively.
Stage 1 Top 10 finishers were as follows: Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto.
Bowyer won Stage 1, picking up from where he left off as the leader following the long rain delay. It was Bowyer’s fourth stage win of 2020. Bowyer held off Martin Truex Jr. in a fierce battle for the stage win, even blocking Truex down to where he was almost on the apron.
The seventh caution of the race fell on lap 135 for another incident in turn two, this time involving Joey Gase. The eighth and final caution of the race fell on lap 212 for the end of Stage 2.
Stage 2 Top 10 finishers were as follows: Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kevin Harvick.
Kyle Busch’s stage win was his third of the season and first since Bristol in September.
To set up the final stage, Busch and Bowyer were among a few drivers who did not pit during the caution for Stage 2. Busch started ahead of Bowyer in the final stage and although Bowyer took the lead for a lap, Busch took command for much of the stage.
Bowyer re-took the lead from Busch with 51 laps to go, however, but he had to pit with 77 laps to go. Bowyer took a no-holds-barred approach, banking on a late-race caution, rather than saving fuel. No caution fell and Bowyer eventually pitted with 23 laps to go, relinquishing the lead to Kyle Busch who earned his 57th career Cup victory.
Clint Bowyer finished 17th and led 89 laps, the most laps he has led in a race this season.
During the final stage, Jimmie Johnson fell out of the race due to a blown engine. Johnson finished 36th in the race but also finished fifth in Stage 1.
Kevin Harvick (+33), Denny Hamlin (+18) and Brad Keselowski (+16) currently hold the remaining three spots for the Championship Four. Martin Truex Jr. sits in fifth, 16 points behind Keselowski.
Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman are in a tie for sixth, 25 points behind Keselowski.
Kurt Busch sits eighth, 81 points behind Keselowski in a must-win situation heading into Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville (2 p.m. ET; TV: NBC, Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).