Kyle Busch is a Las Vegas native after all, so he was “all in” to stay on track instead of pitting for fuel during a pair of overtimes restarts in the GEICO 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway Sunday afternoon. And he ended up, the big winner.
Busch’s No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet had just enough gas to make it back to the checkered flag as a half dozen other lead pack cars around him were collected in a multi-car accident while maneuvering forward to challenge for the lead on the final overtime lap.
“We got to gamble,’’ Busch, 37, said he told his crew while contemplating whether to pit for fuel or stay in the lead pack for the final overtime restart – noting afterward he probably wouldn’t have been willing to be so daring if he hadn’t already earned a victory this season at California’s Auto Club Speedway. He didn’t even do a celebratory burnout after the race, convinced his Chevrolet didn’t have enough fuel at that point.
Busch and 23XI Racing driver Bubba Wallace exchanged the lead during the final two laps of the race but Wallace’s No. 23 Toyota was tagged by Ryan Blaney in the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford as those two vied for the lead just after the white flag flew, signaling one lap to go.
Wallace’s Toyota turned sideways, hit the wall and triggered a chain-reaction accident that eliminated several other of the frontrunning cars while the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Busch was able to continue forward and take his second win of the season and 62nd of this career. It’s Busch’s second career win at Talladega – the first coming 15 years (and 55 wins) ago.
“Sometimes you’ve got to be lucky, you know,’’ said a smiling Busch, who led only three laps in securing the RCR team its 13th Talladega victory. “Sometimes these races come down to that and you’ve got to take them when they come your way.
“The seas kind of parted there when they [Blaney and Wallace] went up the race track there. They were trying to push-draft and these cars are just not stable enough to do that. I saw the 23 (Bubba Wallace) turn a little bit sideways, and I was like, ‘just get out of the way.’ “
Blaney, who led a race best 47 of the 196 laps, looked poised to snap a 55-race winless streak at Talladega before the last lap incident. He was still able to continue after the contact with Wallace, but finished runner-up despite leading the most laps on the afternoon.
“It’s just you get big runs and you take them when you can,’’ Blaney said, noting of the contact with Wallace, “I’m glad everyone’s okay, but in my mind you can’t make a triple move like that, a triple block. You can’t block three times, I don’t know, the runs are so big and as the leader Bubba’s (Wallace) trying to block, which is the right thing to do. But I think he kinda moved three times. I got to go somewhere. I hate for cars to get torn up and I hate for us to be so close to the win.
“I’m not blaming anybody. It’s just hard racing at the end of this thing and unfortunate that cars got torn up and we missed out on another win.’’
Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing driver Chris Buescher finished third, followed by Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe and RFK owner-driver Brad Keslowski, who leads all current competitors with six career Talladega wins.
Legacy Motor Club’s Erik Jones, Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suarez and Front Row Motorsports’ Todd Gilliland rounded out of the Top 10.
It was by all accounts, the typical, hard-nosed, tight-quarter racing fans and drivers have come to expect at the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway. Sunday’s race featured 57 lead changes – the most at Talladega since 2011 (72 lead changes).
It was a markedly different top of the final leaderboard based on the afternoon’s efforts. SHR drivers Aric Almirola and Kevin Harvick each led 11 laps and ran among the front pack for most of the day, but were collected in a multi-car accident on the first overtime period. They finished 20th and 21st, respectively.
Wallace, whose 35 laps out front in his No. 23 Toyota finished 28th after the last lap accident.
Also noteworthy, Chase Elliott finished 12th and led seven laps – the first laps he’s led since returning to competition last week after missing six races recovering from a broken leg. Pole winner Denny Hamlin led seven laps on the day and finished 15th.
Ironically the race’s earlier mishaps didn’t happen from aggressive action on the race track but instead in slower miscues on pit road. Tyler Reddick spun his No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota getting on pit road making his first stop of the race and only six laps later Briscoe spun his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford on pit road bringing out a yellow flag – only to recover and take that top-5 finish.
Wallace, who earned his first career NASCAR Cup Series win here at Talladega in 2021, led the most laps (23) in Stage 1. But it was Hendrick Motorsports’ Elliott who ultimately drove forward to claim his first stage win of the season leading the final 11 laps.
There were 17 lead changes among nine drivers in Stage 2 – with Almirola moving out front in the final feet to the finish line get around Elliott and claim that stage win.
As for the two victories in the opening 10 races of Busch’s tenure with Childress, the NASCAR Hall of Fame owner grinned.
“I think he’s helping us build RCR back up to where we want it to be,’’ Childress said, glancing with a smile at bottle of race-winning champagne he brought to the winner’s press conference.
Christopher Bell maintains the NASCAR Cup Series championship lead by 11 points over Ross Chastain as the NASCAR Cup Series moves to the “Monster Mile” – Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway – for the Wurth 400 next Sunday at 2 p.m. (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).