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Kyle Busch, John Hunter Nemechek win final races on Auto Club Speedway's 2-mile oval

(Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Kyle Busch gets milestone NASCAR Cup victory in Fontana finale

February 26, 2023

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

FONTANA, Calif. – The Kyle Busch era at Richard Childress Racing began three weeks ago at the Los Angeles Coliseum, but the coronation was reserved for Sunday’s Pala Casino 400 in the last NASCAR Cup Series race at 2.0-mile Auto Club Speedway.

Busch grabbed the lead from Ross Chastain on Lap 165 and regained it on Lap 180 at the end of a cycle of green-flag pit stops, as the race ran under green for the final 55 laps. He crossed the finish line on Lap 200 with a 2.998-second advantage over runner-up Chase Elliott.

The victory was the 61st of Busch’s career, most among active drivers and ninth all-time. For the 19th straight season, Busch has won at least one NASCAR Cup Series race, breaking a tie with seven-time champion Richard Petty for the series record.

Kyle and Kurt Busch now hold the record for most combined Cup victories by brothers with 95, one more than the total accumulated by Bobby and Donnie Allison.

Coincidentally, Busch claimed the first Cup win of his career at Auto Club, the bulk of whose property was recently sold—with plans to replace the 2.0-mile speedway with a half-mile short track.

Busch’s victory at Auto Club came in his second start in the No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR, the team he joined after 15 seasons and two series championships with Joe Gibbs Racing.

“I can’t thank Richard and Judy (Childress) enough, Austin (Dillon) for calling me and getting me talking and getting me the opportunity to come over here to RCR,” said Busch, who had to overcome a pit road speeding penalty under caution on Lap 43.

“The guys did a great job. (Crew chief) Randall (Burnett)—everybody that worked so hard in the offseason. We did a lot of sim stuff, a lot of testing in general, just trying to get up to speed. There is nothing more rewarding than being able to go to Victory Lane…

“You put yourself in a different situation and you’re able to reward your guys. It’s not about me always winning, but about the guys. I’ve worked with a lot of great people who’ve given me a lot of great opportunities in my career. It’s awesome to be able to reward them.”

With qualifying rained out on Saturday, Elliott started 31st according to a metric formula based on owner points and performance in the previous race (the DAYTONA 500). Throughout the race, Elliott’s crew made the No. 9 Chevrolet better. By race’s end, it was competitive with the fastest cars in the field.

“Yeah, just really proud of our team,” Elliott said. “We obviously didn't run very good there toward the end of the year last year, and just everybody really went to work hard over the winter to try and get better…

“Obviously, I think we still have some work to do, but it was really nice to just see a lot of that hard work pay off and have the car driving like we were wanting it to do. So that's always a good thing…

“Congratulations to Kyle. For him to leave and then to go get the job done like that is pretty cool. He's always been really good to me, so happy for them and looking forward to getting to Vegas and hopefully competing for some more wins.”

Chastain led a race-high 91 laps to Busch’s 27 and finished third after sweeping the first two stages, the second by 6.673 seconds. Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, Daniel Suárez ran fourth, followed by Kevin Harvick. Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon and Joey Logano completed the top 10.

A multicar accident during a restart on Lap 86 eliminated polesitter Christopher Bell, as well as Ryan Preece, Aric Almirola and Tyler Reddick. Ryan Blaney, who ran at or near the front of the field in Stage 1, sustained heavy damage to his No. 12 Ford during the wreck and finished 26th.

John Hunter Nemechek rides to victory in last race at Auto Club Speedway

After the sun set on Auto Club Speedway, John Hunter Nemechek drove his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to victory in Sunday’s Production Alliance Group 300 in the final race at the 2.0-mile track.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. The NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers were scheduled to race on Saturday, leaving the speedway’s swan song to the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday, but rain and snow—yes, snow in Southern California’s Inland Empire—forced postponement of the race until Sunday.

And after Kyle Busch won the Cup race, Nemechek, who drove for Busch in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series last year, took the checkered flag in his first full-time stint in the JGR Supra.

“Man, this whole 20 team gave me one heck of a race car,” said Nemechek, who took the lead for the last time after a restart on Lap 139 of 150. “Just a huge shout-out to all the guys who work on this 20 team.

“I think a lot of guys doubted (crew chief) Ben (Beshore) coming down from the Cup Series, and to have him on the box and to be able to establish the relationship I have with him, it’s been awesome. I’ve worked with a lot of the guys on the team the last couple of years, and the pit crew—they got it done when it counted tonight.”

Nemechek, who finished second by a matter of inches in the NASCAR Xfinity Series season opener at Daytona, led a race-high 49 laps and finished .761 seconds ahead of runner-up Sam Mayer. The Xfinity Series win was the third of his career, and it came at the track where his father, Joe Nemechek, won the first Cup pole of his career and the first-ever pole at the venue.

Justin Allgaier ran third, followed by Chandler Smith. Josh Berry was fifth, joining JR Motorsports teammates Mayer and Allgaier in the top five.

Mayer chased Nemechek for the final 12 laps but couldn’t get close enough to make a move for the win.

“I’m super proud of my team,” Mayer said. “We struggled early on, that’s for sure. We had our work cut out for us, but we threw the kitchen sink at it, and we ended up second. All things considered, I’m really happy and really proud of these guys.”

Cole Custer may have had the fastest car in the race. The driver of the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Ford, the defending race winner, swept the first two stages and led twice for 46 laps. But after a Lap 91 restart, Custer hit the outside wall on the backstretch, thanks to a flat tire, and sustained further damage when the Chevrolet of Austin Dillon couldn’t avoid Custer’s wounded car..

Custer finished 27th, one lap down.

NASCAR Cup Series Race - Pala Casino 400

Auto Club Speedway

Fontana, California

Sunday, February 26, 2023

1. (21) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 200.

2. (33) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 200.

3. (8) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 200.

4. (7) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 200.

5. (10) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 200.

6. (13) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 200.

7. (16) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 200.

8. (4) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 200.

9. (28) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.

10. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 200.

11. (14) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 200.

12. (2) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Chevrolet, 200.

13. (5) Chris Buescher, Ford, 200.

14. (12) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 200.

15. (24) Harrison Burton, Ford, 200.

16. (23) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 200.

17. (25) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 200.

18. (26) Michael McDowell, Ford, 200.

19. (34) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 200.

20. (31) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 200.

21. (29) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 199.

22. (20) Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 199.

23. (22) JJ Yeley, Ford, 199.

24. (30) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 199.

25. (32) William Byron, Chevrolet, 198.

26. (9) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 196.

27. (11) Cody Ware, Ford, 195.

28. (19) Austin Cindric, Ford, 194.

29. (15) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 185.

30. (18) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, Engine, 172.

31. (36) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, Engine, 140.

32. (1) Christopher Bell, Toyota, Accident, 88.

33. (27) Ryan Preece, Ford, Accident, 87.

34. (35) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, Accident, 87.

35. (17) Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 86.

36. (6) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Accident, 75.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 127.603 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 8 Mins, 5 Secs. Margin of Victory: 2.998 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 8 for 38 laps.

Lead Changes: 28 among 13 drivers.

Lap Leaders: C. Bell 1;A. Bowman 2-17;R. Chastain 18-27;J. Logano 28-29;R. Blaney 30-42;J. Logano 43;R. Blaney 44-46;R. Chastain 47-67;A. Bowman 68;R. Chastain 69-72;D. Hamlin 73-74;J. Logano 75-76;A. Dillon 77-79;N. Gragson # 80;J. Logano 81-92;D. Hamlin 93-97;R. Chastain 98-132;J. Logano 133;K. Harvick 134-137;K. Busch 138-141;J. Logano 142;K. Busch 143-144;K. Harvick 145;R. Chastain 146-166;C. Elliott 167;D. Hamlin 168-171;B. Keselowski 172-173;M. McDowell 174-179;K. Busch 180-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Ross Chastain 5 times for 91 laps; Kyle Busch 3 times for 27 laps; Joey Logano 6 times for 19 laps; Alex Bowman 2 times for 17 laps; Ryan Blaney 2 times for 16 laps; Denny Hamlin 3 times for 11 laps; Michael McDowell 1 time for 6 laps; Kevin Harvick 2 times for 5 laps; Austin Dillon 1 time for 3 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 2 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 1 lap; Noah Gragson # 1 time for 1 lap; Christopher Bell 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 1,12,99,48,11,24,22,4,19,9

Stage #2 Top Ten: 1,8,22,4,99,11,9,48,6,7

NASCAR Xfinity Series Race - Production Alliance Group 300

Auto Club Speedway

Fontana, California

Saturday, February 25, 2023

1. (2) John Hunter Nemechek, Toyota, 150.

2. (22) Sam Mayer, Chevrolet, 150.

3. (3) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 150.

4. (5) Chandler Smith #, Chevrolet, 150.

5. (19) Josh Berry, Chevrolet, 150.

6. (1) Austin Hill, Chevrolet, 150.

7. (6) Riley Herbst, Ford, 150.

8. (15) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 150.

9. (25) Brett Moffitt, Ford, 150.

10. (23) Parker Kligerman, Chevrolet, 150.

11. (14) Joe Graf Jr., Toyota, 150.

12. (35) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 150.

13. (29) Kaz Grala, Toyota, 150.

14. (16) Ryan Sieg, Ford, 150.

15. (18) Kyle Sieg, Ford, 150.

16. (9) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, 150.

17. (17) Anthony Alfredo, Chevrolet, 150.

18. (11) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 150.

19. (13) Sammy Smith #, Toyota, 150.

20. (4) Parker Retzlaff #, Chevrolet, 150.

21. (20) Rajah Caruth(i), Chevrolet, 150.

22. (7) Jeb Burton, Chevrolet, 150.

23. (31) Sheldon Creed, Chevrolet, 150.

24. (38) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 150.

25. (30) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 150.

26. (26) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 150.

27. (8) Cole Custer, Ford, 149.

28. (28) Alex Labbe, Ford, 149.

29. (34) Joey Gase, Toyota, 149.

30. (36) Bayley Currey, Chevrolet, 149.

31. (33) Blaine Perkins #, Chevrolet, 149.

32. (37) Timmy Hill(i), Ford, 149.

33. (10) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 149.

34. (32) Ryan Ellis, Chevrolet, 149.

35. (21) David Starr, Chevrolet, 148.

36. (24) Tyler Reddick(i), Toyota, 148.

37. (27) CJ McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 147.

38. (12) Gray Gaulding, Ford, Accident, 26.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 115.471 mph.

Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 35 Mins, 53 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.761 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 10 for 41 laps.

Lead Changes: 23 among 9 drivers.

Lap Leaders: J. Nemechek 1-20;A. Hill 21-24;C. Custer 25-38;J. Allgaier 39-41;C. Custer 42-73;J. Berry 74-75;S. Smith # 76-83;J. Berry 84;S. Smith # 85;S. Creed 86-95;C. Smith # 96;S. Creed 97;J. Nemechek 98-99;S. Smith # 100;J. Nemechek 101-107;S. Smith # 108-109;J. Nemechek 110-116;S. Smith # 117-118;A. Dillon(i) 119-128;J. Nemechek 129;S. Creed 130-133;J. Allgaier 134-138;J. Nemechek 139-150.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): John Hunter Nemechek 6 times for 49 laps; Cole Custer 2 times for 46 laps; Sheldon Creed 3 times for 15 laps; Sammy Smith # 5 times for 14 laps; Austin Dillon(i) 1 time for 10 laps; Justin Allgaier 2 times for 8 laps; Austin Hill 1 time for 4 laps; Josh Berry 2 times for 3 laps; Chandler Smith # 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 00,21,16,11,98,2,25,10,20,48

Stage #2 Top Ten: 00,20,18,10,48,7,1,2,98,16


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