INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — NASCAR’s hottest driver kept his cool on Sunday.
Kyle Busch outdueled Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick on each of the last three restarts, fended off a last-lap challenge from Logano and finally overcame Indianapolis’ searing humidity to win his first Brickyard 400 after running four more laps than scheduled.
The victory came one day after Busch was so dehydrated he struggled to stand when accepting the race trophy for his Xfinity Series win. Less than 24 hours later, a revived Busch wouldn’t celebrate sitting down. He grabbed the checkered flag, motioned to the crowd and gleefully kissed the speedway’s famous yard of bricks.
“This one here today checks off probably the one that’s No. 2 on the races-to-win list,” he said.
The significance of his 0.332-second victory was yet another chapter in Busch’s remarkable comeback story.
After missing the season’s first 11 races with a broken right leg and a broken left foot, Busch has been virtually unbeatable. He has won the last three Cup races, four of the last five overall and moved within 23 points of cracking the top 30 to qualify for the Chase after NASCAR granted him a waiver. Busch also has two Xfinity wins during that span.
But the way he won Sunday was every bit as incredible as his sudden surge.
The No. 9 qualifier quickly moved into the top five and stayed there most of the day and his timing was impeccable. He took the lead on Lap 153 and only gave it up once, briefly to Logano, who used a daring move to get past Harvick and nearly past Busch on the Lap 158 restart.
Logano got close on the final two laps, but settled for second as Busch managed to pull away. Harvick wound up third.
“Joey was fast,” Busch said. “He drafted on me a couple times. But if you just protect that bottom and not let that guy get a chance inside of you, you’re really going to mess him up. That’s what I had to do in order to win this thing today.”
Here are some other takeaways from the race:
ROUGH FAREWELL: Jeff Gordon’s hometown and home-state fans were hoping for a storybook ending to his Indy career. Instead, his quest for an unprecedented sixth win on Indy’s 2.5-mile oval ran into some bad luck. Clint Bowyer’s car spun right in front of Gordon, who narrowly avoided the car before hitting the outside wall. Gordon pitted twice before taking the car back to the garage, where his crew fixed the car. He wound up 42nd in his final race at Indy. “Today is not the way we would have liked to have ended, but that is the reality and we just have to deal with that and move on,” he said.
PENSKE’S PITFALL: The most successful team owner in Indianapolis 500 history, Roger Penske, has not had any luck in the Brickyard. The drought continued Sunday. In addition to Logano’s runner-up finish, Brad Keselowski settled for 10th after a late pit stop knocked him out of contention.
OH WHAT A FEELING: Busch’s victory was part of a milestone day for Toyota, which has now won six straight Cup races. The engine manufacturer has won at all 23 tracks on the NASCAR circuit. In addition, Toyota ended Chevrolet’s 12-year winning streak and claimed four of the top seven spots at the Brickyard. Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson noted that the win also should help change the impression that Toyota engines are better suited to smaller tracks, noting that it has won at short tracks, intermediate tracks and now a superspeedway during the winning streak.
THE RULES: Organizers changed the rules to create more drag, hoping to make the race more exciting. Post-race reviews were mixed. While Busch said he thought there were benefits to the new package, Wilson acknowledged he didn’t see much difference between the last two Cup races in Indy.
HOT, HOT, HOT: While the outdoor conditions were not quite as steamy Sunday as they were Saturday, the air flow inside the cars still made things tough on drivers. Unlike Saturday, though, when some drivers including Busch needed medical treatment, NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said he was not aware of anyone who went to the infield hospital following Sunday’s race. Busch’s crew chief, Adam Stevens, said the team made Busch’s comfort inside the car it’s top priority — even if it was detrimental to the car’s performance.