At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch’s approach to his first top-five victory of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season was paved with difficult, weekend-long zigzags. His fourth-place finish in the Pennzoil 400 on Sunday wasn’t just due to his driving ability, but partly to a pre-race teamwork to get him there.
Busch led 49 of the 274 laps in a reserve No. 18 Toyota before a late caution period and extra session transformed the race’s complexion. After a collision in Saturday’s training damaged his main No. 18 car, various Joe Gibbs Racing workers raced to prepare his back-up — a blank “parts” car that began Saturday without a paint scheme wrap — the Vegas native started near the back of the 37-car field.
“Just a great effort by everybody at Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing for all the hard work and my guys on the 18 team and also the 11, 19 and 20,” Busch said. “They just did a really good job of getting us here today. We had no choice, we had to be here, but they worked really hard all night long and put in a lot of hours so that was good and to have the opportunity to go out and race for a win, that was really good, too.”
The excitement didn’t stop once the 400 started on Sunday. Busch steadily climbed the standings, overcoming a faulty shifter early on and then recovering from a half-spin that brought out the race’s third red flag on Lap 42. Later, he chastised Chase Briscoe for a blocking manoeuvre on a restart shortly before the first green-checkered flag of the day. All of this occurred during Stage 1.
Busch ranked ninth in the first stage and fifth in the second, battling through a wall brush and a mid-race vibration to stay in contention. After a tense battle for the lead with Ross Chastain, he took command and dominated for 40 laps until a caution period on Lap 264, precipitated by Erik Jones’ collision that collected Bubba Wallace, sending the race into extra distance.
Before the yellow, it seemed that Busch would be left to battle it out with JGR driver Martin Truex Jr., but the late-hour round of pit stops threw the plot off. Three Hendrick Motorsports competitors chose two instead of four tyres, putting Busch’s No. 18 in fourth place before the lane choice. After lined up on the inside of Row 2 for the two-lap rush to the finish, he ranked there.
“We tried to make the most of it there,” Busch said, “but luck just wasn’t on our side.”
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