AVONDALE, Ariz. – Kyle Busch chased down Ryan Blaney late in Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 to complete a weekend sweep at ISM Raceway.
Busch was dominant throughout Sunday’s 500-kilometer event, but pit strategy shuffled him out of the lead with less than 100 laps left and he was forced to work his way back to the front. He did so in fine form, taking the lead for the final time with 16 laps left.
“Man, God this makes last week feel so much stupider,” said Busch, who saw his hopes for a sweep last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway vanish because of a pit road speeding penalty. “Man I wish we could have swept last week too. That would have been pretty awesome to start out this year with two weekend sweeps in a row and three being in my hometown of Vegas.”
The final dash to the checkered flag was set up by a handful of caution periods, with the final restart coming on lap 238 with Aric Almirola leading Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney and Busch. Of the front four, Busch was the only driver who took four fresh tires during his most recent pit stop.
Blaney, who started from the pole and won the first stage, made quick work of Dillon for second and with 61 laps left he dispatched Almirola to take the lead. Behind him Busch was taking his time and on lap 245 he moved around Dillon to take over third.
Twelve laps later Busch moved into second, slipping past Almirola to take the position before setting his sights on Blaney. Slowly but surely Busch reeled in Blaney and soon he was within half a second of the Team Penske No. 12.
With 18 laps left Busch caught Blaney and was on his back bumper looking for a way back into the lead. He got his opening one lap later.
Busch used a run on the high side in turns one and two to build momentum down the backstretch, allowing him to drive to Blaney’s inside entering turn three. The pair stayed side-by-side for the next lap, with Blaney doing everything he could to hold Busch off.
Entering turn three on the next lap Busch pulled clear of Blaney and quickly pulled away to his 52nd Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory and the 199th victory of his NASCAR National series career. Busch is now one victory away from tying seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion for most wins all-time across all three of NASCAR’s National divisions.
Busch slowed his pace in the final laps to save fuel and said afterwards he knew he was close on fuel because of the length of the run, but he had to get by Blaney before he could start saving fuel.
“You just give it everything you’ve got and push hard and do everything right to get the lead first,” Busch explained. “You worry about fuel afterwards. When they said the 12 (Blaney) was backing off, I started backing off and trying to save a little bit of fuel.
“You’re not going to save, but maybe a shot glass in 12 laps. Overall though, we had plenty. We did a burn out and everything was good. Great day for us here to be in victory lane.”
Blaney was forced to slow his pace over the final 15 laps in an effort to save gas, allowing Martin Truex Jr. to get by him to give Joe Gibbs Racing a one-two finish. Still, Blaney said he was happy with the result after a rough start to his season that saw him finish no better than 22nd prior to Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500.
“Honestly we hung on better there on two tires than I thought we would,” said Blaney. “We fired off pretty good. I got by Aric and we gapped Kyle a little bit and I was kind of riding trying to save tires, save gas. I knew they were telling me we were really close on gas just doing two (tires).
“I think he was kind of riding back there too,” Blaney continued. “I think they knew what situation I was in. I started to get real tight and then I got the lap cars and I was done. When we got passed for the lead it was full-on fuel save mode.
“A shame we couldn’t get MoneyLion and Ford a win, but it was definitely a good weekend after the start of the year we’ve had.”
Almirola ended the day fourth, with Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin completing the top-five. Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick and reigning series champion Joey Logano filled the top-10.