Race Weekend Central

Kyle Busch Arrives in Earnest at RCR with Win at Auto Club

Kyle Busch got his 61st victory in the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday (Feb. 26) afternoon, winning the final race on Auto Club Speedway’s 2-mile configuration by taking the Pala Casino 400.

Busch held off Chase Elliott and Ross Chastain late to get there. Daniel Suarez and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five finishers.

The win marked Busch’s first since joining Richard Childress Racing this offseason.

“It’s phenomenal, I can’t thank Richard and Judy [Childress] enough, can’t thank Austin [Dillon] enough for calling me,” Busch told FOX. “Sometimes, you get down on it and you put yourself in a good situation and you reward your guys.”

Busch positioned himself for victory during the final stage, blowing by Ross Chastain and pulling away before green flag pit stops. Busch then had to pass Michael McDowell down the stretch after the No. 34 team chose to try and stretch it to the finish on fuel.

It didn’t work, as McDowell wound up fading to 18th.

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That left Elliott as the biggest challenger to Busch but the No. 9 Chevrolet never had the track position to get toward the front.

“Congratulations to Kyle (Busch),” Elliott said after the race. “For him to leave [Joe Gibbs Racing] and then to go get the job done like that is pretty cool.”

Still, Elliott was proud of his Hendrick Motorsports team’s efforts on Sunday. The 2020 Cup Series champion had failed to score a top-five finish since his win at Talladega last fall.

“I’m really proud of our team, especially with how bad we ran toward the end of last year,” Elliott said. “Everybody worked really hard over the winter to get better.”

Denny Hamlin brought his Toyota Camry home in sixth, followed by Brad Keselowski, who had one of his best runs since buying an ownership stake in what is now Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. Alex Bowman was impressive at times and finished eighth, while Austin Dillon kept the good vibes going for RCR with a ninth-place run. Joey Logano rounded out the top 10 on the day.

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Drivers Reminisce on Past Events, Racing of Auto Club's 2-Mile Configuration

Chastain swept both stages while stars like Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson found trouble early and finished poorly. However, Chastain didn’t have enough for Busch as the race wore on despite leading 91 laps, the second-highest total of his career.

“I don’t know,” Chastain said about how Busch got by and pulled away. “He just got faster!”

Behind the racing out front, the competition in the pack was hot and heavy all day, as it was often three, four and even five-wide at times for position. While the racing was very competitive, they were very few multi-car incidents outside of one large exception in stage two.

A 10-car pileup occurred on lap 87 when the field was bunched up for a restart. The control car of Logano laid back to get a jump on the field, which stacked up the outside lane.

The end result was a huge crash that took out contenders such as Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Aric Almirola and Ryan Preece. It was particularly devastating for Blaney, who had led laps and finished second in the first stage.

Truex, meanwhile, had a loose wheel following a pit stop, was penalized and lost two laps. The incident will also result in a two-race suspension for two crew members under NASCAR’s new 2023 rules regarding loose wheels. Despite all that, Truex fought back to the lead lap, earning two free passes, and ended the day in 11th place.

Larson looked strong for about 13 laps before his HendrickCars.com Chevrolet started to sound as though it was without power. He brought it to pit road, but the car would need to be taken to the garage area to be repaired.

Larson got back out on track, albeit 16 laps down, suffering through an electrical issue. It was a tough break for last year’s winner who was often the fastest car on track after returning.

The NASCAR Cup Series will be back for more next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the running of the Pennzoil 400 Presented by Jiffy Lube. Coverage will begin Sunday, March 5 at 3:30 p.m. ET with television coverage provided by FOX.

NASCAR Cup Series Pala Casino 400 Results

About the author

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Garrett joined Frontstretch as a news writer in 2023, and became a fantasy racing and betting writer in 2024. Hailing from the heart of coal country in southern West Virginia,  he's a married father of three and currently enrolled in the Physical Therapy Assistant Program at New River Community Technical College in Beaver, WV. He has been a racing fan since 1998, primarily watching NASCAR, but branching out to F1 and IndyCar as his love for motorsports has grown.

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