A look at the final battle between Busch and Chastain which led to Busch’s 19th straight season with a victory

Kyle Busch didn’t expect to be a winner with Richard Childress Racing this soon. Truthfully didn’t. However, Busch beat Ross Chastain out of pit road during their final pit stops on Lap 166 and when the lead cycled back to the front, it was Busch’s No. 8 Chevrolet shown on the Auto Club Speedway leaderboard on top.

He’d never look back in leading the final 21 laps en route to his 61th career NASCAR Cup Series victory, including 19 straight years with at least one trip to victory lane.

“Truthfully, no,” he said if he thought he’d challenge for this so soon. “I felt like there was going to be a little bit of a learning experience, a little bit of a growth pattern.

“19 straight years. Richard Petty had that record. He and I were tied at 18. There’s not very many records that you can beat that Richard Petty has, and certainly that was one that I set early on a long, long time ago that I always wanted to achieve and get, so I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to set that bar and would love to continue to keep raising it.”

That opportunity almost didn’t happen. Busch charged from his 21st starting position in Sunday’s Pala Casino 400 in Fontana to the front. However, after the second caution of the day flew on Lap 41, the field hit pit lane two laps later. Busch exited third. The problem was, he was speeding and was relegated back to 31st on the ensuing restart.

That was more motivation than he truly needed. Busch was up to 11th by the end of that opening stage. He was second at the end of the second stage.

Meanwhile, in that process, Ross Chastain was dominating. He swept both stages and had led 70 of the opening 130 laps. This was shaping up to be his race to lose.

However, the race winning moment could be initially tied to the end of the stage battle between Busch and Chastain. During that second stage, Busch had run down Chastain for the lead.

“Yeah, there was a moment there when I ran Ross Chastain down the first time and I got to his bumper and I was trying to make a move to get by him and I just couldn’t figure it out, and then my car just flipped a switch and went super loose, so I about crashed a few times,” Busch admitted on that second stage battle between the duo.

“I was just hanging on at the end of that stage.”

However, that process led them to know what changes they were going to have to make in order to push his No. 8 Chevrolet over the final 70 laps to the finish.

“We were able to make some more adjustments to it to get it better on the long run, and then from there, we battled again with Ross all the way up until we pitted there for the final time,” he continued.

Busch took over the lead on Lap 138 during the final stage, but it was short lived. The final caution flew on Lap 140, so back down pit road everyone went. Chastain was first off. Busch caught him again, but struggled to get by. Chastain would lead the next 21 laps before the final round of stops on Lap 166.

“I was trying to work on the 1, and the aero games are just terrible with this car,” said Busch. “He was literally mirror driving just watching wherever the heck I was going and trying to put himself in front of me because it would just make me super tight and a few times I about hit the wall. You just keep trying to find different grooves that you can still make good time in and you’re in clean air and he’s not air blocking, but this racetrack gives you that opportunity to be able to do that.

Busch won the battle off pit road between the two and when the lead cycled back around, the scoreboard showed Busch in first and Chastain in second. That was the final turning point to help aid Busch in scoring the win in the second race of the 2023 season.

“Our guys executed a really good job on pit road and got me out front, and then I was able to drive away,” he says.

Chastain admitted that while he had a fast car for most of the race, they didn’t have a car once they were behind in the end to close back up.

“He got faster. I don’t know,” said Chastain on the ending. “Our balance was building loose most of the day, so I thought we did everything right. We kept up with it. It would just feel pretty loose late in the runs, and at times it was enough, and at times they got way better. I felt like we were the steady force.”

Chase Elliott ended up getting by Chastain for second as despite leading five times for 91 laps, he had to settle for third.

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