NASCAR: Victory No. 7 for Cool Kyle
By Rick Gano
JOLIET, Ill. ó The only place Kyle Busch got stuck was in the infield grass, his tires spinning as he celebrated is seventh ó and perhaps most impressive ó victory of the season in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series.
After Busch led most of Saturday night’s race at Chicagoland Speedway, two-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson went by him on the 251st lap.
The confident 23-year-old Busch was nearly ready to concede. “Race over,” he was heard saying over his radio after Johnson, his former Hendrick Motorsports teammate, went in front.
But a ninth and final yellow caution flag led to a restart with two laps remaining. And just like that, Busch had one last chance for his second consecutive victory.
Staying on Johnson’s bumper at the restart, he went high on Turn 4 and back into the lead on the next-to-lap. He then led the most important lap of the night, the 267th and final one.
“I really don’t believe how good things are going,” said Busch. “It’s just been a phenomenal year. Something just so special.”
Busch got rolling Friday night by winning the Nationwide Series on the same track, a much easier victory but one that gave him a feel for the track which hosted night racing in a major competition for the first time.
He now has 14 victories this season when you count all three of NASCAR’s divisions. And he leads the Sprint Cup Series by 262 points over second-place Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
With Busch in the No. 18 car, Joe Gibbs Racing’s future is very bright, despite the loss of Tony Stewart next season.
Stewart announced earlier this week that he would leave JGR at the end of the season to become part owner and driver with a team that will be called Stewart-Haas Racing next season. Stewart drove his No. 5 car to a fifth place finish Saturday night and is still winless this season.
The way Busch pulled out his latest victory surprised third-place finisher Kevin Harvick, who had a great vantage point over the final two laps.
“I really thought the 48 (Johnson) had the dominant car,” Harvick said. “But the 18 got there on the outside and kind of stuck.”
His aggressiveness in setting up the pass was just as important for Busch as the actual move that got him the lead back.
“I was right there on his rear bumper and fortunately that was our race-winning move,” Busch said. “Just being able to stay with him on the restart and not spin my tires and get to his outside through one and two.”
He wasn’t really sure he could do it.
“Did I surprise myself? Yes. Without that caution the race was over. Jimmy was going to lead us to the checkered flag,” Busch said. “So when that caution came out, it kind of changed everything and I was just trying on that restart, doing whatever I could to get back by him.”
Johnson apologized to his team for what he said was faulty strategy after the final restart.
“For a two-lap shootout, the outside always wins. I didn’t make the best decision there,” Johnson added. “I should know better. I’ve passed guys on the last lap on the outside. I should have given him the bottom and been a little smarter with that.”
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