Fontana, California - by Tyler Lawler
The off-season was as long, dark, and dismal for some drivers as the weather has been in Southern California over the last week. We saw drivers lose rides, others retire, and a headline showcased two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch rotate from top Toyota personality to Chevy's next-gen 'Man-in-Black'.
Many critics questioned over the last several months if the switch to Richard Childress Racing and a revolving list of b-class sponsors was the death rattle on Busch's career. Since the Clash in LA, he's proven each week just the opposite.
**Rewind to last Sunday in Daytona. Kyle Busch was leading on the 200th lap, a feat he had never accomplished in his 19 season career. He overcame a pit road speeding penalty and made it to the front in the final stage. A late caution interfered with him and ally Austin Dillon totally stealing the show. Their teamwork and horsepower, though, was certainly showcased. **
Kyle wasn't able to win his prestige events starting the year. He went winless at the Clash, his Duel, and the 500, but the speed continued.
Entering the final race at beloved Auto Club Speedway 2.0 mile configuration, media and fans reminisced all week about their favourite memories from Penske's dream property. Busch, now with over 200 career national victories in NASCAR, and 60+ in the cup series earned his first ever premier victory in nothing other than a Chevrolet at Auto Club in 2004. Like many others in the field, he knew in his heart that he had no choice but to go out on top before the track was nuked.
Listening to the radio through the race, Busch's energy and interaction with his crew was poised, polished, and proper. A driver known to be crisp and tough when things don't result in success, he was respectful in his wording when challenging his 2nd pit road speeding penalty of the season. The penalty put the #8 Lucas Lubricants Chevrolet Camaro team a full lap down. Even with the now tenured 'Lucky Dog' rule in effect, overcoming a lap on tracks longer than 1.5 miles have proven to be nearly impossible. He did earn it back, though. He was calm and consistent and drove his way to the front by the end of the second stage, finishing second to Ross Chastain. Chastain led the most laps and some in all three of the stages.
The final portion of the race was glue. Everything the stuck. The car tires stuck in the turns, the team's game plan didn't need to evolve. Crew chief Randall Burnett called a great game and 'Wild Thing' Rowdy-Busch claimed his first victory in a Chevrolet since the 2000's. With the victory, he earned his 61st overall premier series win and passed NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Richard Petty's consecutive seasons with a victory, now at 19 years running.
Kyle's joy and confidence in his post race interview was youthful. He reminded us of the young gun many fans loved, but still sprinkled in a little bit of the monster some fans have grown to hate. He's witty, and he plays the game. A quick blunder did take place when he nearly called his CAMARO a CAMRY, but he fixed it with a smile and as they say in the book of Genesis...all was well.
Kyle Busch is back. And he's back big.