Kurt Busch Outduels Kyle Larson at Kansas Speedway

·2 min read
Photo credit: Chris Graythen - Getty Images
Photo credit: Chris Graythen - Getty Images

Over the past decade, Kurt Busch has developed a reputation as something of a team-fixer. His last three programs (Furniture Row Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Chip Ganassi Racing) all saw significant improvements immediately after he joined the program. That made him a natural fit at the newly-expanded 23XI Racing this year, where he joins Bubba Wallace in a two-car program with winning expectations. Just 13 races into his time with the team, those expectations have already been fulfilled.

Busch was third on the final stint before passing brother and Toyota Racing Development stablemate Kyle Busch for second with 20 to go. That put him in position to chase leader Kyle Larson in the final stretch. He caught Larson with 15 to go, then got to his side with 10 to go. He dove inside, then held the line for two laps. Eventually, Larson ran out of room pushing too hard and hit the outside wall. That got the elder Busch brother clear to the race lead, and from there he never looked back.

Not only is it Busch's first win for 23XI Racing, it is a win on debut for team owner Michael Jordan's Nike-partnered Jordan Brand as a sponsor. It's also a banner day for Toyota, who placed all six of its factory-backed cars in the top ten today even after Busch's 23XI Racing teammate Bubba Wallace fell to last on the lead lap with a pit lane penalty twice in the second half of the race. Aside from Larson, every other car in the top six of today's race was powered by Toyota. Given how poorly that entire program had run in the season's opening months, the turnaround is hard to overstate.

After 13 of 26 regular season races, the win adds to a surprising subplot: With just 16 spots in the playoff, 11 drivers have already won races. If just five more new drivers win races in the next 13, the playoffs will be entirely filled by drivers with a race win (or, if the regular season points leader is winless, drivers with a race win and the regular season points leader). That would effectively throw consistency as a way to qualify for the postseason out entirely and create new urgency for winless stars like Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., and Kevin Harvick.

The battle for a spot in the NASCAR postseason, and with it a shot to contend for a championship, resumes in two weeks with the annual 600-mile classic at Charlotte. In the week in between, NASCAR will head to Texas Motor Speedway for a non-championship All-Star Race.

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