• Sat. Apr 1st, 2023

Kyle Busch gets first win with RCR in Pala Casino 400

ByEvan McNelia

Feb 27, 2023
Auto Club Kyle Busch Win

Photo courtesy of Meg Oliphant | Getty Images

Kyle Busch won the 2023 Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway, NASCAR’s final race at the track in its current two-mile configuration. The win marks Busch’s first in the No. 8 Chevy with his new team, Richard Childress Racing.

“I need some 3Chi for my hands man,” Busch said after the race. “I death-gripped that wheel throughout the second half of that race but we held on man and got it today.”

Last week at Daytona, Busch was collected in a crash on the final lap in overtime after leading at the end of regulation.

After battling with the driver of the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing driver Ross Chastain through the later stretch of the race, Busch established an advantage out of the final pit window. Through the final 20 laps, he defended a solid lead over Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 driver Chase Elliott, finishing the race four seconds ahead.

Busch has now won in a NASCAR-record 19 consecutive seasons, officially breaking Richard Petty’s record of 18 consecutive seasons with a win. It was his fifth career win at Auto Club, the second most of any driver. Only Jimmie Johnson has won more, holding six victories at the track. 

“[This win] I think it ranks high, just because it ranks to the fact that I can do it,” Busch said. “I never doubted myself, but sometimes you do. You wonder ‘what’s going on’ and ‘what’s happening’ you put yourself in a different situation and you’re able to come out and reward your guys.”

His first Cup Series race win was at Fontana in 2005 with Hendrick. He has won with each of the three teams that he has raced for after becoming the final winner on the current track.

Earlier in the week it was announced that NASCAR was selling approximately 433 acres of the 522-acre plot that Auto Club sits on for about $544 million. Speculation says that the remaining space will be converted to a short track, though no official plan has been laid out for the future as of yet.

Auto Club is Stewart-Haas No. 4 driver Kevin Harvick’s home track and in his final season got to wish the track farewell. The race marked Harvick’s 750th consecutive career start. Jeff Gordon and Ricky Rudd are the only other drivers to reach that feat. Harvick finished the race in fifth after running near the front for a lot of the later part of the race.

A lot of the festivities of Auto Club’s final running were left in question after weather conditions affected the track earlier in the weekend. The track was last repaved in 1996, as NASCAR’s oldest pavement, the track can be extra difficult when wet.

Saturday’s Cup Series practice and qualifying were snowed out and Sunday’s starting order was determined via the metric. Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 driver Christopher Bell was named the pole winner under the NASCAR rule book. Xfinity Series practice and qualifying were also rained out and the race was moved to Sunday night. However, crews were able to get the track dried for racing on Sunday.

With no practice or qualifying, Stage 1 was a big feel-out period for a lot of the field. A lot of the field had minor issues early. However, Trackhouse Racing was one team that seemed to run well from the jump. Chastain ran near the front early, battling for the lead with No. 48 Hendrick driver Alex Bowman and No. 19 JGR driver Martin Truex Jr.

Kyle Larson in the No. 5 Hendrick Chevy was the first driver to have a major issue as his engine died 13 laps in. He tried getting back onto the track a lap down but could not get the car going. During the Lap 15 competition caution, he was taken to the garage. He was able to get the car going again but not before he was 17 laps down. He finished the race 15 laps down in 29th place.

Truex Jr. received his first penalty of the day for equipment interference and was sent to the rear on the restart. 

Busch first inserted his name into the conversation about 20 laps in after starting the race in 21st. No. 12 Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney also kept himself in the mix at the front early.

On Lap 42, No. 6 RFK driver Brad Keselowski spun out on the back stretch after No. 7 Spire Motorsports driver Corey LaJoie got into his left rear quarter panel. It was the first of several incidents that LaJoie was involved in during the race. It drew the second caution of the race. Almost every caution the field would pit for fresh tires due to the damp track.

Busch was busted for speeding on pit road and restarted in 32nd due to the penalty. By the end of Stage 1, he climbed back 21 spots to finish 11th. He was the first of several drivers busted for speeding in the race. Trackhouse Racing No. 99 driver Daniel Suárez got popped at the end of Stage 1. In the final stage, William Byron stopped for tires and got penalized for speeding, effectively ending his bid for a top-10 finish.

Coming out of the caution, Trackhouse racing dominated. Chastain jumped out to the lead and Suárez followed him in second. They were almost able to hold those top two spots for the remainder of the stage but Blaney broke the duo up by placing second in Stage 1 as Chastain won the stage.

On Lap 76, Kaulig Racing No. 16 driver AJ Allmendinger got behind LaJoie in a line of drivers that were forced to check up on the backstretch. He bumped into the rear of LaJoie and was sent rolling toward the inside barrier which he made hard contact with, ending his race. 

Martin Truex Jr. had issues leaving pit road. While rolling back around to pit, he lost a tire becoming the first victim of the revamped on-track loose tire penalty. He was sent two laps down in the race and now two of his crew members will have to serve a two-race suspension.

Entering the front stretch on Lap 82, 23XI Racing No. 45 driver Tyler Reddick started sliding up the track and got into LaJoie sending him spinning low into the grass. The following restart triggered one of the weirdest crashes in Auto Club history. Logano was slow to decide the restart and Chastain attempted to jump his mark and had to check up to avoid hitting Logano’s rear bumper. This caused a chain reaction in the rows behind him and eventually, cars were turned sideways and sprawled across the infield grass. The incident affected ten cars knocking four out of the race and two off of the lead lap. 

Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 driver Ryan Preece and No. 10 driver Aric Almirola were two of the drivers eliminated in the incident. Reddick and Bell’s days also ended. Blaney and No. 51 Rick Ware Racing driver Cody Ware both had to pit and battle back from down laps.

Chastain also won Stage 2, beating out Busch and Logano.

With 60 laps to go the final caution of the race was waved for Spire’s No. 77 driver Ty Dillon who suffered an engine failure for a second-straight race. He finished 31st, 23XI No. 23 driver Bubba Wallace had an engine failure later in the race and finished 30th.

Chastain and Busch battled over the lead through the final stage but Logano began a green flag pit cycle that diced up the field in the final stretch as everyone pitted at staggered times. Front Row Motorsports No. 34 driver Michael McDowell elected not to pit and held first place for a while. Busch began gaining on him on fresh tires once he was out of the pit. Busch passed McDowell with 21 laps to go, taking his final lead of the race. He held off a pursuing Elliott for the final laps to close out the race with his first win of 2023.

Next week all three National Series will run as NASCAR travels out to the desert. The Cup Series will run the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

NOTE: Technical inspection is complete. No issues. No. 8 Kyle Busch is the winner.