EditorsNote: Removes extra word from 12th graf
Kyle Busch had won 15 races at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but none of them was in NASCAR’s top Cup Series.
He emphatically crossed that off the list Sunday, dominating the sport’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600, as few others have at any track.
He led 377 of the 400 laps on his way to Victory Lane, and the win at CMS accomplished the rarest achievement: a Cup victory at each of the tracks currently NASCAR races on, making him the only driver to do so.
And Busch got maximum points in the victory, winning all three stages along the way to taking the checkered flag at the finish for his 47th Cup victory.
“This one’s very special,” he said, adding “The Coke 600, I dreamed of this race as a kid and winning this race. ... It’s a little boys’ dream come true.”
Rounding out the top five, in order, were Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson.
The 600 had a unique format this year, with three stages instead of the usual two followed by the race to the finish. At 400 laps, the race was broken down into three 100-laps stages and the final 100 laps to the finish on the 1.5-mile track.
And winning a stage carries an additional point into each round of NASCAR’s playoffs, something Busch had only done twice this season before Sunday.
Busch started on the pole and had little trouble holding the lead once the race started. After the caution flag flew on Lap 36 for a blown right-rear tire on Austin Dillon’s car, the field pitted and a fast stop by Busch’s crew kept him in the lead, followed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney.
Busch easily maintained that lead, but Kevin Harvick — winner of five points races and the All-Star Race so far this season — had moved from his 39th-place start to sixth after 50 laps.
Harvick had moved up to fourth after 83 laps but then blew his left-front tire and hit the wall in Turn 4, causing serious right-side damage to his No. 4 Ford. He was unable to continue, his first Did Not Finish of the season, and he wound up last in 40th place.
Keselowski stayed out during the ensuing caution, and Busch lined up in the No. 18 Toyota behind the No. 2 Ford. Keselowski dropped out of the lead just after the restart with 13 laps to go and finished 26th after the 100 laps that constituted Stage 1. Busch cruised to the stage victory, leading Blaney’s No. 12 Ford by 1.473 seconds. Busch led 94 of the 100 laps.
Busch and Blaney maintained their positions after the round of pit stops and restarted Stage 2 up front. Fuel and pit strategies started to come into play, and when all the green-flag pit stops had cycled through near the end of Stage 2, Busch was comfortably back in the lead, beating Truex in the No. 78 Toyota by more than three seconds. Blaney faded and said he was having trouble with his car.
Busch’s crew was on top of things all night, as Busch didn’t lose a spot on pit road in the race.
Busch started rolling his way through Stage 3 as well, coming off pit road first, again, with 40 laps to go having led all but 12 of the first 260 laps of the race. Busch took off from the field on the restart with 35 to go in the stage and pulled away until Kyle Larson, running near the front all evening in the No. 42 Chevrolet, spun on Lap 272 to bring out another caution.
Another restart, same result, as Busch took off like a rocket, but it lasted less than a lap as Blaney’s car finally gave up, bursting into flames. On the restart with 15 laps to go in the stage, it was Busch’s older brother Kurt in the No. 41 Ford who had no answer for Kyle.
Busch beat his teammate Erik Jones in the No. 20 by 2.644 seconds to win Stage 3 to set up a run for a perfect day.
To open the final stage, Keselowski was again the victim after a bad pit stop had pushed Jones back to 20th.
The Cup Series heads to Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., next Sunday for the Pocono 400 at 2 p.m. ET on FS1.
—Field Level Media