NASCAR waited out the rain and Kyle Busch waited for his moment at Texas Motor Speedway.
“When he gets to two seconds we’ll turn you loose,” Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens radioed to his driver in the final stage of Wednesday’s race, which was postponed three times over the course of 72 hours because of inclement weather.
After the race stalled, stalled, stalled, then finally started and sprinted to its conclusion without any cautions in the final stage, Busch was riding the tail of Clint Bowyer until the No. 14 driver ran low on fuel and Busch was able to make his pass for the lead.
Busch then fielded calls from Stevens for the rest of the race to simultaneously save fuel and drive fast to put him in Victory Lane for the first time this season at the Autotrader Echopark Automotive 500. The defending NASCAR champion nearly forgot his signature bow after the win.
“It’s been a really long time,” Busch said when reminded about the move on NBCSN’s broadcast.
Busch’s 57th career victory came after 33 winless races in 2020 and an early elimination from the playoffs in the Round of 12.
After NASCAR snapped its wet-weather streak following three days of delays in Fort Worth, and the sun peaked out over the track Wednesday afternoon, Busch raced to snap his winless streak.
“It kind of felt like a championship win,” Busch said, describing the nerves of racing in the final laps while trying to both save fuel and maintain the lead.
After Bowyer won the first stage, Busch won Stage 2 to gain a positional advantage heading into the final round, which went without caution for 118 laps. Busch said the narrative of 2020 haunted him in the cockpit as the race was winding to a close and he was racing for the win.
“Every little thing that can go wrong you feel like is going wrong or every little creak of the car you think, ‘Oh, I got a flat tire’ when everything’s fine,” Busch said.
But 2020 didn’t beat Busch at Texas, and he can finally allow the feeling of relief to sink in.
“I said, ‘I’m done. I’m good for the year. I’m retiring,’ ” he joked.
Other drivers have less of a reason to be relieved. Busch’s win means three Championship 4 spots are still open with one Round of 8 race remaining. Busch’s teammate and playoff driver Martin Truex Jr. finished in second place. Cup rookie Christopher Bell finished in third.
Truex Jr. sits 36 points below the four-driver cutoff after Texas, where a win would have put him through to the final round. Instead he’ll be scrapping with seven other drivers at Martinsville for the chance to compete for a trophy in two weeks. Truex said he didn’t look at the second-place finish as a loss.
“To run second all day long and lead some laps is tough to do,” Truex said. “And you gotta put yourself in position, in the top two or three to win races and so we were right there.”
Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin struggled to find their footing Wednesday as the teams are looking to be peaking, or at least maintaining the dominance they’ve shown all season. Both drivers reported vibration throughout the evening on the tough-tire track.
Joey Logano, who won at Kansas last week, is the only driver who has locked in his spot for the final round of the NASCAR playoffs. Harvick still sits 42 points up, and Hamlin, who finished in ninth, is now just two points ahead of Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman heading to Martinsville.
While Texas might have looked gloomy for those drivers, the trip was a bright spot for Busch, who is able to maintain a 16-year streak of winning at least one race each season. He said that means a lot.
“We finally got it,” he said.
©2020 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)