One week. That’s all it took to answer the question of how long it would take until Kyle Busch reached victory lane for the 200th time of his NASCAR career. Busch, dominated Sunday’s Auto Club 400 in Fontana en route to his 53rd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory and 200th NASCAR win overall.
Last weekend in Phoenix, Busch took his No. 18 Toyota to victory for the 199th time. Immediately in the Arizona desert, everyone knew that it was now more of a matter of when, not if, Busch ties the “King” Richard Petty for 200 NASCAR wins.
That win was now.
It could have happened in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race though, but a bad final pit stop cost him a shot at victory. He’d finish second instead.
In Sunday’s race, Busch was caught speeding on pit road following his Stage 2 victory which put him on the tail end of the lead lap. It didn’t take long for him to get his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota back to the front though, as a handful of laps later, he was scored back in the top 10. He inched closer and closer until passing Joey Logano for the lead on Lap 174. Busch, would lead the final 26 laps to cap a dominating performance. He swept both stages for the third time of his career and celebrated in victory lane after.
Busch, led a race high 134 of 200 laps on Sunday and now has 361 laps led this season alone. That’s more than double than the next best – which is Ryan Blaney with 150.
Logano, finished runner-up to Busch crossing the finish line 2.354-seconds behind. It was Logano’s sixth top seven finish in his last seven Fontana starts and fourth top 10 finish in the first five races to 2019.
Brad Keselowski came from the 13th starting spot to finish third in his No. 2 Ford on Sunday. The top five was Keselowski’s fourth top four in his last five starts at the Auto Club Speedway and was also his third top three finish in the last four weeks on the season as well.
Kevin Harvick brought his No. 4 Ford home fourth for the third time in the last four weeks while Ryan Blaney gave Penske three cars in the top five with his second consecutive top five finish on the year.
Here are my main takeaways.
Aero Package Is What It Is Now
After Atlanta, it was the “real” package takes effect the next week in Las Vegas. See, Atlanta’s aged surface was too abrasive on the tires and we didn’t have the aero ducts on the cars because of that.
Just give it a week they said and we’d have a full gauge in general when we head back east. So, we did.
Vegas, well it was only slightly better than before. This “drafting” package was a dud there. Shocking? Yes. Too early to base judgement? Sure.
Then, it was to Phoenix for a high downforce package but no aero ducts nor tapered spacers. The race was again, only slightly better but not to where a new aero package should have worked.
Just wait until Fontana the next week they said again. This would be the same package that was in Vegas but have a wider track. After all, all we heard on this was to not judge the new package until we got done with the west coast swing.
Well, after another dud of a day, we have to start considering that this package isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. It’s not like the racing has gotten any worse, so applaud NASCAR for that. They tried. But, it’s also not like it’s gotten any better either.
The drivers all say that they do get runs on other cars and are considerably faster in the corners, but in wake, the dirty air makes it too hard to really suck up to the car in front and actually pass them.
We should just call this the “restart” package as that’s the only exciting times with it. For all the hype of this new aero package, it’s shown that the best of the best still win and the parity isn’t returning.
JGR/Penske Top Teams In NASCAR
Last year, we had the “Big 3” but it appears now that we have the “Big 2.” The “2” are for organizations, not drivers, as Team Penske and Joe Gibbs Racing have combined to win all five races and all but one stage out of the gates in 2019. They’re leaps and bounds better than everyone else.
Kyle Busch has won two races and has five top six finishes to start the year off with. Denny Hamlin won the Daytona 500 to go along with five top 11’s including three of which in the top seven. Martin Truex Jr. has four consecutive top eight finishes including two runner-ups.
Penske has Brad Keselowski with a win in Atlanta and three top three finishes in his last four starts. Joey Logano won in Vegas and has four top 10’s and three top four results. Ryan Blaney has led the second most laps in the Cup Series and is hitting his stride with two top five’s now.
Stewart-Haas Racing A Close 3rd
At this point last year, Kevin Harvick headed back east with three wins. In 2019, he’s winless. Harvick, does have three fourth place finishes in his last four starts, but he’s not anywhere like he was in 2018. It’s not like he’s far off, it’s just that JGR and Penske have been that much better.
Aric Almirola has four consecutive top 10 finishes on the season and right behind him. Daniel Suarez and Clint Bowyer have struggled as of late but Harvick and Almirola are the top contenders to JGR and Penske.
Kurt Busch Off To A Strong Start
If there’s a rogue driver out there that’s close, it’s Kurt Busch. He’s off to a very strong start with his new team (Chip Ganassi Racing). Busch, has four top seven finishes in his last four starts and is the top contender outside of JGR/Penske/SHR right now.
HMS Struggles Continue
This was supposed to be a stronger weekend for the Hendrick camp. They looked fast in practice and coming off of an improvement in Phoenix. Instead, none of their four drivers came away with a top 10 result.
Chase Elliott was the top for them in 11th. William Byron was next best in 15th. Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman finished 17th and 21st respectively.
To start the year off with, Elliott has four finishes of 11th or worse in five tries. Byron, has been 15th or worse in all five races. Bowman, has three finishes of 11th through 15th but two of 21st or worse. Johnson, has two top 10’s, but his other three finishes are 17th or worse.
This team isn’t close yet.