How Kyle Busch Got His Swagger Back with Win at Auto Club Speedway
Only two races into the NASCAR Cup Series 36-race schedule, Busch and his Richard Childress Racing team haven’t exhibited even the smallest learning curve.
In Sunday’s Pala Casino 400, Busch led three times for 27 laps, second only to third-place finisher Ross Chastain.
His 61st career Cup victory gives him a record 19 consecutive seasons with at least one Cup win.
Kyle Busch possessed four victories at Auto Club Speedway entering the final race on the 2-mile track’s current configuration, but he never expected to claim his first win with Richard Childress Racing so early in the season.
“I felt like there was going to be a little bit of a learning experience, little bit of a growth pattern,” Busch said Sunday after recording his fifth victory at the Fontana, California, track.
Only two races into the NASCAR Cup Series 36-race schedule, Busch and his RCR team haven’t exhibited even the smallest learning curve in their first season together. The Las Vegas native finished third in the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum exhibition event, led 28 laps in his Daytona 500 qualifying race before being eliminated by a crash and led six laps in the Daytona 500. He possessed the lead with two laps remaining in the season opening race when a caution sent it into overtime. Busch finished 19th after being involved in a nine-car crash that ended the Daytona 500 in double overtime.
Busch and his team have spent time together in the shop and away from the track in an effort to facilitate their understanding of one another. The night before the California race, they enjoyed a “Go-Kart night and had some fun.”
“It’s just been super, super rewarding so far each week … to just be a part of the conversation and be in the mix,” Busch said.
In Sunday’s Pala Casino 400, Busch led three times for 27 laps, second only to third-place finisher Ross Chastain. His 61st career Cup victory gives him a record 19 consecutive seasons with at least one Cup win. The old record was 18 held by Richard Petty. The 114th victory for Richard Childress Racing also broke a 28-race winless streak for Busch.
“He’s a pretty incredible talent,” crew chief Randall Burnett said. “(There’s) a lot of talent on that team … and he gets along with all the guys and everything’s been good so far. It’s kind of a little breath of fresh air to be able to get a win knocked out early. We can kind of grow this team together and try some things and learn some things with him.”
Burnett noted that when Busch received his pit road speeding penalty early in the race, he was hard on himself “because he’s a perfectionist” and Burnett had to tell him to shake it off.
“He’s one of the best on pit road every year and it’s because he’s aggressive,” Burnett said. “He’s got a way he likes to do things. It’s on the limit and every now and then you’re gonna get caught. We’re gonna talk about it going forward and really weigh the risk versus reward. We’ll make adjustments if we need to.”
With the victory, Busch’s familiar swagger returned.
“I held my own destiny today (Sunday), and I felt like I did a good job of that,” Busch said. “Every other race this year I’ve been run over, so … my results haven’t been indicative to how we’ve been running.”
Even though Busch believed it might take a few months for him to gel with his new team, he knew he was stepping into a potent Chevrolet that Tyler Reddick had driven to three victories last year. In fact, Reddick outclassed the field last year at Auto Club Speedway leading 10 times for 90 laps before a tire issue cost him his first Cup victory.
“I’ll take that on my shoulders,” Burnett said. “I was the one that made the air pressure adjustment and got too aggressive and got too greedy and it cost us a race. All my bosses told me today to make sure I got enough air in the tires.”
Like many of his fellow drivers, Busch is unhappy about the track’s demise. He earned his first Cup pole and victory at the speedway in 2005. The pole came in the February race and the victory in the September event when he drove for Hendrick Motorsports.
Busch also possesses the distinction of having been barred from racing at the speedway.
In 2001 at age 16, Busch was scheduled to compete in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck race for Roush Racing. Shortly before qualifying, Jack Roush was informed his teenage driver couldn’t compete at the track then known as California Speedway due to federal regulations. NASCAR’s Truck series was sharing the speedway that weekend with a CART event that was sponsored by Marlboro.
Part of the Master Settlement Agreement between the California attorney general and Big Tobacco stated that no one under age 18, the legal smoking age, could participate in an event sponsored by a tobacco company. The broad interpretation of the agreement meant the ruling applied to every event conducted at the speedway that weekend, including NASCAR. Busch was out and Tim Woods III was in for that race.
“That was my welcome-to-NASCAR moment and welcome-to-California Speedway moment,” Busch said.
Still, the speedway has left Busch with “a lot of great memories.”