Kyle Busch holds off Denny Hamlin for NASCAR Cup Series win outside St. Louis
By DAVE SKRETTA
MADISON, Ill. (AP) Kyle Busch had been in and out of his car through a lengthy weather delay. He had idled on the track through two red flags. He had kept his poise through 11 cautions, including five down the stretch as he tried to protect his lead.
Must have seemed like Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Race at World Wide Technology Raceway would never end.
It finally did in the twilight, though, some six hours after the green flag initially dropped. Busch got a big push from Denny Hamlin on the last restart and then held him off in a green-white-checkered finish for his third victory of the year.
“That was pretty awesome, man, to sit on the pole, lead a lot of laps and have my guys do such a great job today. It was pretty phenomenal for us,” Busch said. “We're going to have a great time with this one. This one is pretty cool.”
Bubba Wallace brought out the 11th and final yellow when he was fighting for a top-10 finish and his brake rotor let go with five laps remaining, the last in a series of broken rotors that ended the race for at least three other drivers.
Busch, who had held off Kyle Larson on each previous restart, had one last phenomenal jump in him. He was well ahead of the rest of the field by the backstretch with just over a lap left and was never seriously challenged by Hamlin after he took the white flag, giving Richard Childress Racing another victory after triumphs at Talladega and Auto Club Speedway.
"Any time we give him a car capable of winning, he's going to win it,” Childress said. “Those last three or four or however many restarts, I thought that was pretty tough, but I knew he would do his job.”
The win was especially gratifying for Busch’s crew chief, Randall Burnett, who not only produced a car fast enough to win the pole in his hometown but also made all the right calls on Sunday. Burnett hails from nearby Fenton, Missouri, and had plenty of friends and family in a sellout crowd of about 60,000 on a brutally hot late spring day.
“It means a lot to me coming home," Burnett said.
Hamlin finished second while Joey Logano, the winner a year ago in the Cup Series debut at the track, got around Larson on the final lap for third. Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five ahead of Ryan Blaney, last week’s winner at Charlotte.
“Long day for sure,” Logano said after climbing out of his car. “There were four or five cars that were just better than us. We made some good adjustments at the end and we were in the hunt.”
It was a long day for Corey LaJoie, who filled in for Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports and spent most of the day near the back before finishing 21st. Elliott was suspended for the race for intentionally wrecking Hamlin last week.
It also was a long day for everyone on pit stands. There were some technical issues that not only prevented them from having communication with teams back at their shops, but also limited the amount of data that they were able to see.
“It was interesting for sure,” Truex said. “It was just an uphill climb."
The race went to caution on the second lap when Tyler Reddick spun on the back stretch. Moments later, the race was halted due to popup lightning in the area. While the delay lasted about two hours, rain never fell on the track.
Carson Hocevar made his Cup Series debut in place of LaJoie in the No. 7 for Spire Motorsports. But the car still carried LaJoie’s name, so the 20-year-old Hocevar walked through the fan area several hours before the green flag handing out drinks to make sure everyone knew he was in it. Hocevar was on the move Sunday when his brake rotor broke during Stage 2.
“I was running 16th and it was so surreal. I thought we were going to have a good day and be in a good spot,” Hocevar said. “Hopefully that call for a Cup ride isn’t the only one I get in my life.”
The egg-shaped oval at World Wide Technology Raceway is particularly hard on brakes. Reddick was running seventh when his rotor exploded, putting him into the wall and out of the race. The same fate as Hocevar and Reddick hit Noah Gragson, who spun from the bottom of the track up into the wall and made hard contact with 42 laps to go.
CREW MEMBER HURT
Thomas Hatcher, who changes the right front tire for Erik Jones, was hurt when he got tangled with another crew member as the car slid into the stall during a pit stop. Hatcher was taken by ambulance to the hospital but was awake and alert.
The series heads next Sunday to the road course in Sonoma, California. Daniel Suárez became the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR Cup Series race when he dominated the final stage to win the race a year ago.
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP-Sport
Updated June 5, 2023