Kyle Busch returned to a familiar place at Texas Motor Speedway – Victory Lane.
Busch held off Kevin Harvick by 0.300 seconds to take the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 on Sunday afternoon.
“This has been a trying couple of months,” said Busch, who now has 44 career Cup wins. “After Daytona [finishing 25th], we’ve just been on a roll of finishing really good and getting really pumped and excited about that and the momentum we were able to carry, but frustrated at the same time trying to get to Victory Lane.”
Busch had finished 2-2-3-2 in the four races going into Texas, and a Joe Gibbs Racing car had yet to win a Cup race.
Those near misses finally ended at TMS, a track that has suited Busch well throughout his career. Sunday marked his third Cup victory to go along with eight Xfinity wins and three truck wins.
Busch, though, described Texas as a track he's struggled with. He didn't win at the Cup level until his 16th start and isn't a fan of tracks that have recently repaved racing surfaces.
But he found his winning ways again and even joked about the sun breaking through when he went to Victory Lane to celebrate.
“I brighten everybody’s day every day,” said Busch, who led a race-high 116 of 334 laps. “It’s just certainly a team effort and a great win.”
Busch, 32, continued the season-long trend of veterans winning races. Texas billed its kickoff race weekend on the young stars of the sport, but they haven’t had a breakthrough yet.
Busch was followed by a couple drivers in their 40s, Harvick and Jamie McMurray. Four of the young drivers the track promoted finished in the top-10 with Erik Jones (4), Ryan Blaney (5), Bubba Wallace (8) and William Byron (10).
Harvick, who has three wins so far, blamed NASCAR-issued pit-gun equipment for his runner-up finish. He felt that kept his team from a fourth win of the season.
“We had a pathetic day on pit road because of pit guns,” Harvick said. “Time after time you can’t get the lug nuts on because the pit guns don’t work.”
NASCAR is issuing the equipment this year as a way to save teams costs, but it clearly isn’t sitting well with established drivers or team owners.
“I don’t like things not in our hands,” said Joe Gibbs, the race-winning owner. “That’s something I hope we continue to evaluate.”
Added McMurray: "There is a huge adjustment to get used to the pit guns that we have used in the past. There was a lot of work that went into those to get them to the level that they were at. The pit guns that we get from NASCAR, they are not even close that same level."
As far as the race itself, a handful of contenders saw their days end with 155 laps in a seven-car pileup that red-flagged the race for 11 minutes, 3 seconds. Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola were among those knocked out in the biggest accident of the day.
“By the time I saw it, because I was rows back, the No. 11 (Hamlin) was backward and sliding up the track,” said Johnson, TMS’ all-time leader in Cup wins (seven) who won this race a year ago.
“I was in the outside lane and knew I was in the wrong lane at that point and probably going to get caught up in it. Unfortunately, we did, but a lot to build on from the weekend.”
Before that accident, a couple drivers – Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson – had their races come to a close by blowing right-front tires.
“Just blew a right-front tire out of nowhere. Not sure what happened there,” Truex said.
Added Larson: “I was pretty tight, but didn’t really expect to blow a right-front.”
In the end, all that fans will remember is Busch and JGR getting back to Victory Lane. It made it even more special for them that the car's sponsor happened to be Dallas-based Interstate Batteries.
"It's a huge deal for us," Gibbs said.