Kyle Busch gets first 2021 victory – on his birthday

Perhaps it was birthday fate. When the name of the race is the Buschy McBusch Race 400, your name is Kyle Busch and it’s your 36th birthday, you have to figure there’s some serious racing juju in your favor. And Busch took advantage of it.

Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota took the lead on a restart with two laps remaining and held off the field by .336 seconds at Kansas Speedway to give him his first NASCAR Cup Series win of the season – 58th of his career – and new crew chief Ben Beshore the first win of his career.

It completed a weekend trophy sweep for Busch, who won Saturday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, too.

“Just a great day to be able to put this M&Ms Camry up front,” Busch said smiling, adding “Great to be able to get everyone back in Victory Lane again this early in the season and get those points going our way.

“And,” he said breaking into a grin, “I just remembered it’s the Buschy McBusch Race and a Busch won. What do you know?”

It was a dramatic ending to what had been largely a Kyle Larson show up front all day. The Hendrick Motorsports driver led a race-best 132 of the 267 laps. But he got shuffled back to the second row on the last restart and had contact with Ryan Blaney’s front-row running Ford after taking the final green flag. The two cars slid up and bounced into the wall and out of the groove, allowing Busch to take off with the help of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. pushing from behind.

Ultimately the Fords driven by Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski – on fresher tires – chased down Truex on the last lap to claim second and third place behind Busch. Keselowski, last week’s Talladega winner, led a season-best 72 of the opening 80 laps.

Matt DiBenedetto was fourth and reigning series champion Chase Elliott finished fifth. Truex was sixth, followed by Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, William Byron and Austin Dillon.

Larson, looking to claim his second victory of the season was disappointed after the race. He finished 19th after leading the most laps on the afternoon.

“I had the 2 [Keselowski] behind me and he didn’t get to my bumper and I think he had to protect behind him and it just allowed the bottom [row] to get a good jump on us and the bottom two lanes cleared me,” Larson explained.

“I was back to third and planned on pushing [Ryan] Blaney as good as I could and obviously, I pushed too hard and got him loose and chased both of us back into the wall. I was just trying to help him stay side by side with the 18 [Busch] on the back to allow myself to have some sort of opportunity, but I just pushed too hard.

“That’s really the first time I was behind somebody on a restart. I learned for next time.”

The first 167 laps of the 267-lap race were run with no major incidents – the caution flags came out only for a scheduled competition caution and the two stage breaks. Busch won Stage 1 and Larson won Stage 2.

But there were three cautions in the last 20 laps – making pit decisions and lane choice crucial in that last run to the checkered flag.

Ultimately, the two-time series champion Busch was able to keep his car up front and make the move when he needed to – his victory obviously a huge boost in confidence for the team, which had only two previous top-five finishes in the opening 10 races of the season.

“It’s hard sometimes when you go through the lulls, you go through the disappointment, you go through dejection and the lack of understanding if you can still do it,” said Busch, who became the 10th different winner in 11 Cup Series races this year. “There’s a sense of doubt there for sure. But you just have to keep persevering, keep digging and putting your focus forward.”

Series points leader Denny Hamlin led seven laps in the late going, squaring off with Larson until contact with the Turn 4 wall knocked him from contention with 25 laps to go. His No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota sustained more damage in clouting the outside wall in Turn 1, and Hamlin finished 12th after repairs.

A pair of drivers in the 39-car field made milestone starts. Ryan Newman finished 16th in his 700th Cup Series effort, never fully recovering from a stop-and-go penalty in the first stage for an unapproved modification to the body of his No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Alex Bowman salvaged an 18th-place result in his 200th Cup appearance, rallying after a wall scrape with Bubba Wallace at the start of Stage 3.