Kyle Busch Finally Wins in Long Delayed Texas Race
By: Tyler Head (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch took the checkered flag to win the EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Wednesday night in the NASCAR Cup Series. This was Busch’s first win since his championship clinching victory at Homestead-Miami last year. This extends his consecutive season winning streak to 16. The 18’s victory was just one story in the chaos that was the EchoPark Automotive 500.
MIST, DRY, REPEAT
The Cup cars took the green flag shortly before 4 pm EST on Sunday afternoon and despite a visible haze, NASCAR allowed the race to run 52 laps before deeming the track unfit to continue on. The problem wasn’t rain, but mist. During the opening laps moisture could clearly be seen on on-board cameras and windshields, but the track itself wasn’t necessarily getting soaked. Despite the track seeming to be “dry,” a number of cars where getting uncharacteristically loose in the turns. The biggest name of those being Kevin Harvick who slid off turn two and slapped the outside wall. NASCAR finally threw the caution leading to a red flag in order to try and get things under control, unbeknownst to them though; that was going to take a while.
For the remainder of Sunday, as well as all day Monday and Tuesday, NASCAR played a game of cat and mouse with Mother Nature. As soon as it seemed the jet dryers and air titans were making progress on drying efforts, the mist would pick up and render all work void. This resulted in a red flag lasting 72 hours, 28 minutes, and 34 seconds. To say everyone is relieved to have the race completed is an understatement, but one thing is for sure. We’re never going to forget this long delay.
Running on empty
As if the stress of going through the first 33 events of the season winless wasn’t enough for Busch’s 18 team, they had to endure a grueling 67 lap run to the checkered flag on pins and needles wondering if they had the fuel to make it.
Crew Chief Adam Stevens played the strategy game to get the 18 out front in the final stage, but it meant they were off sequence with their pitting by several laps to the cars behind them. Busch hit the pits with 67 laps to go, one lap after having to use his extra fuel storage switch, which meant he would be on the razor’s edge of the race’s estimated fuel window. Perhaps inspired by Darrell Waltrip’s famous fuel saving techniques in the 1989 Daytona 500, Busch caught a draft off of any and every lap car that he encountered on his way to the finish in hopes of saving ounces of gas each time. Stevens continued to push for Kyle to save even into the final laps. The 18 ended up with enough fuel for a burnout to celebrate. There’s been a lot of discussion about the future of Busch & Stevens going forward, but Wednesday proved that they can clearly still get the job done.
An uphill battle
Four whole days at Texas Motor Speedway was rough on everybody, but it may have been just a bit rougher on Martin Truex Jr. and his 19 team. Prior to Sunday’s original green flag, the 19 car was penalized in pre-race inspection for having an illegal spoiler. This not only meant that Truex would have to start the race in the rear, but his Crew Chief James Small was ejected from the track and he was docked 20 driver and owner points.
Truex entered Texas 23 points below the Playoff cut line, a significant number, but not an insurmountable one. 43 points is a different story. Truex did just about everything right over the course of 500 miles. He led laps, scored 18 stage points, and was in position to take the win should Busch have ran out of gas. Obviously that didn’t happen and Truex remains winless at Texas. He now goes into the elimination race at Martinsville 36 points out of the Championship 4. The good news is that’s one of his best tracks and he’s won the past two races there, but had the 19’s spoiler been within NASCAR’s guidelines or had Truex won on Wednesday, he would be entering Martinsville with a lot less stress on his shoulders.
ALL OR NOTHING
Truex wasn’t the only Playoff driver to have things go wrong at Texas. Harvick slapped the wall early and just never could get back up front, Denny Hamlin suffered nose damaged after sending Matt Kenseth around in stage 1, and Chase Elliott had to pit an additional time for a vibration in stage 3 which trapped him a lap down resulting in a 20th place finish.
Harvick and Hamlin have a boatload of Playoff points to fall back on and thus find themselves above the cutline heading into Martinsville. But for Elliott (-25), Alex Bowman (-25), Truex (-36), and Kurt Busch (-81) the only option is to win. You may not love the Playoff format, but there’s no denying that it becomes very entertaining when situations like this come about.