He was singing about soaring like an eagle during the race, but he coasted like a driver along Pacific Coast Highway to the finish as Kyle Busch outlasted and outsmarted the field on fuel strategy to earn his second victory of 2021 at Pocono Raceway Sunday afternoon.
The win snaps Hendrick Motorsports’ six-race win streak, which dates back to Dover in May.
However, Busch’s run to victory was as chaotic as can be because the No. 18 Toyota suffered transmission issues and was stuck in fourth gear for over 100 laps, meaning that he couldn’t downshift into corners and out laps on pit-road exits would be slow.
Six-straight Cup Series events of Hendrick dominance meant it was time for a changing of the guard and the team faced adversity following Saturday’s race.
Sunday opened up that way as the four-team stable fought adversity before the green flag as three drivers started outside the top 10 due to the lineup inversion and Kyle Larson had to go to a backup car after wrecking on the final corner Saturday.
More adversity hit Larson in the opening laps as he made contact with Denny Hamlin, causing massive damage to the nose of the car.
With Hendrick working their way through the field, Joe Gibbs Racing struck first as Martin Truex Jr. and Christopher Bell ran out front after clearing Chris Buescher and Michael McDowell, who started on the front row.
Truex won the first stage, but one of the moves of the race happened on the closing lap as William Byron beat out Truex to get back on the lead lap before the stage caution. Byron put himself in a position to win at the end of the race, but ran out of fuel with three laps remaining. The 24 car wound up 12th.
However, Byron did collect a stage win in the second leg of the race.
The opening laps of the final stage set the tone for the finish as drivers were cutting tires left and right, and drivers were sideways off of corners.
Off turn three, Chase Elliott made contact with Bell and both drivers ended up suffering flats along with the field stacking up as Bell half-spun and hit the outside wall.
The final restart occurred right on the edge of the fuel window with Byron, Denny Hamlin and Busch right at the limit.
Each driver saved as much as they could to make it to the end, but Busch out saved them all to score the victory.
A dejected Hamlin showed his frustration as he has yet to win through 19 races this season.
“I just do what I’m told,” Hamlin said. “I hate seeing the white coming to pit road. It’s frustrating.”
The No. 11 team wound up 14th, which makes it two of the last three races where Hamlin has finished outside the top 10.
Hamlin’s points lead is now cut to just four as Larson saved enough fuel to finish second to Busch.
After pitting with just under 30 to go, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick pushed the pace and made leaders sweat, but their surge wasn’t enough as they wound up third and fourth respectively.
Finally, 23XI Racing has a breakthrough this season as Bubba Wallace scored the team’s first top-five finish.
Ryan Preece scored his first top-10 finish since going 2/2 in top 10’s to start the season. He now matches a career-high for top-10 finishes that he set in 2019 (3).
Tyler Reddick also matched a career-high for top 10’s in a season as he picked up his ninth for 2021. Reddick now has a 48-point cushion on the playoff cutline.
Speaking of the cutline, it’s as tight as can be with Kurt Busch holding the 16th spot by just three points over Buescher.
The Cup Series will shift to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin for their inaugural event at Road America to celebrate Independence Day.
Unofficial playoff standings: