Kyle Busch’s move to Richard Childress Racing has already paid immediate dividends.

Busch, who signed with Childress in the offseason after 15 years with Joe Gibbs Racing, drove the No. 8 Chevrolet to victory Sunday at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

Busch has now won a Cup Series race for 19 consecutive years, setting a new NASCAR record. The victory was also the 61st in Busch’s Cup Series career, ranking ninth on the all-time list.

“I death-gripped that wheel in the second half of the race, but we got it done,” Busch said after taking the checkered flag. “I’m going to enjoy it for sure, and hopefully there’s many more to go.”

Busch won his first career Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway back in 2005 when he was driving for Hendrick Motorsports, and he added three more victories while driving for Gibbs: back-to-back in 2013 and ’14 and five years later in 2019. Now, he takes his third different owner to victory lane.

“I think it’s just phenomenal,” Busch, the 2015 and 2019 Cup Series champion, said. “I can’t thank Richard and Judy (Childress) enough. I can’t thank (teammate) Austin (Dillon) enough for calling me and asking me to come over.”

Sunday’s win also snapped a drought of sorts for Busch. Busch won the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway last year, but he had not won a race on pavement since taking the checkered flag at Pocono Raceway in 2021.

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Chevrolet has good day

Chase Elliott finished second, driving his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet through the field after starting 33rd on Sunday. Elliott finished 2.998 seconds behind Busch and more than four seconds ahead of third-place finisher Ross Chastain, who won the first two stages on the race.

Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate Daniel Suarez finished fourth, giving Chevrolet a sweep of the top four spots. Kevin Harvick, who announced he will retire from full-time racing following the 2023 season, finished fifth in a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

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Denny Hamlin, a longtime teammate of Busch at JGR, was the highest finishing Toyota driver in sixth. Owner/driver Brad Keselowski finished seventh in his Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford. Alex Bowman driving for Hendrick, and Austin Dillon, Busch’s new teammate at RCR, finished eighth and ninth, respectively, while reigning Cup Series champion Joey Logano rounded out the Top 10 in a Team Penske Ford.

Big One breaks out

The “Big One” is generally reserved for Talladega or Daytona — NASCAR’s two largest and most unpredictable tracks — but Fontana produced one midway through the second stage.

As cars took the green flag on a restart on Lap 87, Joey Logano, who was leading the field, delayed his start, stacking the cars up behind him as drivers tried to anticipate when he would hit the gas. When drivers started checking up, a massive incident was triggered, ultimately collecting 10 cars for the largest wreck in a Cup race at Auto Club Speedway since the facility opened in 1997.

Ty Dillon got turned by Todd Gilliland and spun through the grass, and the chain reaction hit multiple cars, including Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell, Justin Haley, Ryan Preece, Tyler Reddick and Cody Ware.

Almirola, Bell, Reddick and Preece suffered enough damage that they were forced to retire from the race, joining AJ Allmendinger, whose No. 16 Chevrolet took race-ending damage when he spun on Lap 75 and hit the inside wall.

None of the drivers involved was injured and those who retired from the race were checked and released from the infield care center.

Goodbye Fontana

Auto Club Speedway’s racetrack seems to be adored by every professional driver on the continent. Those two miles of gloriously weathered asphalt allow racers to be their best selves, providing the ideal combination of grip and space for nimble maneuvers in the perfectly banked corners, thrilling passes from the apron to the wall, and even five-wide racing at times during a quarter-century of mostly memorable Sundays.

“To me, it’s a driver’s dream,” Ryan Blaney said. “It’s a big racetrack. It’s incredibly wide. The progressiveness of each lane, the banking, is the right kind of degree change. Tires fall off.

Indeed, the second race of the current Cup season will be the last before this beloved pavement is torn up, ostensibly to clear the way for a short-track course. Fontana won’t host a NASCAR weekend in 2024, and the new setup might not be ready until 2026, if it happens at all.

NASCAR, which owns and operates the facility, has been planning a short-track redesign since 2020 to service the latest trend in stock car racing. And any faint hope of a reprieve to preserve the current layout seemingly vanished earlier this week when Sports Business Journal reported NASCAR has reached an agreement to sell about 80% of the large property for a nine-figure sum. It’s unclear whether the short-track plans would even happen under new ownership.

“Sad is probably the first reaction,” Joey Logano said. “But business is business, and how do you go against that? When you hear what some of the numbers (for the sale) were, how do you not take that?”

Contributing: The Associated Press


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