Thursday, April 19, 2018
Sports

Kyle Busch surges to Sprint Cup victory at Fontana

FONTANA, Calif. — With tires and tempers blowing up all over the track for 400 crazy miles, Kyle Busch stayed calm and relied on his knack for big finishes at Fontana.

Busch won the Auto Club 400 on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval for the second straight year Sunday, holding off Kyle Larson, Tony Stewart and his older brother Kurt on a frantic two-lap sprint to the finish.

Kyle Busch, in a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, capably blocked Larson in overtime laps to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race featuring a track-record 35 lead changes and numerous tire problems.

"Holy cow, what do you expect when you've got a green-white-checkered finish and everybody has to come down pit road and put four tires on?" Busch said after his third career win at Fontana. "That was (the racing movie) Days of Thunder right there. Unbelievable day."

With his 29th Cup victory, Kyle Busch is NASCAR's fifth winner in five races this season. He led just five laps, his fewest in a Cup win.

Those five winners have theoretically all but clinched spots in the 16-car, season-ending Chase for the Championship. But if there are more than 16 winners in the first 26 races, that will get complicated.

Jimmie Johnson was leading comfortably when he blew a tire with seven laps left, precipitating the wild finish. Jeff Gordon then moved in front until Clint Bowyer spun with two laps left, setting up an overtime finish.

Gordon then elected to pit along with most of the leaders. Kurt Busch gambled with just two tires to gain track position and restarted second, but his younger brother came up from fifth in the final two laps.

"I came off the fourth turn in disbelief that we won this thing, because we were mediocre all day," Kyle Busch said. "It was really weird for us, not a race that we're typically used to. But now there's a load off your shoulders that you can go out the rest of the season and race the way you want to."

He also got a thrill from outlasting Larson, a 21-year-old rookie who held off him and Kevin Harvick on Saturday to win the Nationwide series race.

"I guess you couldn't ask for more, but I was surprised to get up there late in the race," Larson said. "We were probably a 12th-place car for most of the day."

He had to settle for the best finish of his nascent Sprint Cup career in the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Kyle Busch, who went to Larson's car Saturday to congratulate him on his Nationwide win, pointed out his window at Larson after Sunday's finish, pumping a fist in approval.

"What a shoe that boy is," Kyle Busch said.

Kurt Busch was third, followed by Matt Kenseth and Stewart.

Several teams had serious tire problems on the weathered track, with multiple flats and cautions for various problems throughout the hot afternoon.

"By no means is this a problem for Goodyear," Kurt Busch said of NASCAR's tire manufacturer. "It's just a thumbs-up for NASCAR for allowing teams to get aggressive in all areas."

Denny Hamlin, whose injuries in a crash in last year's Fontana race kept him out for a month, missed the race with a sinus infection. Sam Hornish filled in and finished 17th.



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