Just one day after Kyle Larson held off Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch to win the 2014 Treatmyclot.com 300 in the Nationwide Series, Busch made sure lightning didn't strike twice. He took home the checkered flag in Sunday's Auto Club 400 after passing and then holding off Larson on the final lap.
The way Busch moved down to block Larson was nothing short of masterful. It looked like the 21-year-old had a window, until the veteran closed it immediately.
It's Busch's second win at Fontana in a row, per Nate Ryan of USA Today:
Kyle Busch wins at Fontana for second straight year. Kyle Larson second. Kurt Busch third, Matt Kenseth fourth. Tony Stewart fifth. #Nascar— Nate Ryan (@nateryan) March 23, 2014
His late-race heroics have also become synonymous with the track, as the race has been won with a pass on the final lap in three of the last four years, per ESPN.com's Matt Willis:
Make that 3 of the last 4 California races decided by a last-lap pass. Kyle Busch now has won the last 2 that way.— Matt Willis (@MattWillisESPN) March 23, 2014
A caution on Lap 198 led to a green-white-checker finish, thus building to what was a great finish. After the victory, Busch compared the race to Days of Thunder, per Newy Scruggs of NBC 5 in Dallas-Fort Worth:
"That's a Days of Thunder thing right there. What do you mean there's 2 laps to go everybody's gonna pit Cole. Unbelievable day," Kyle Busch— Newy Scruggs (@newyscruggs) March 23, 2014
Despite his second-place finish, you can't discount how well Larson drove on Sunday. Late in the race, in a span of a few laps, he jumped from ninth to second. It seemed that maybe the stars were aligning for the emerging star, that he would cap off what would have been a great weekend.
It wasn't to be, but that's no reason to be down about the result. Larson ran a great race; it just so happened Busch ran a better one.
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The bigger story of the day was tires. It seemed like every 25 laps, somebody was blowing one or even two tires. Jimmie Johnson was in the lead with seven laps to go, until he blew a tire. That set up the frantic finish.
Earlier in the race, the problem got so bad that there was a possibility that teams would run out and need NASCAR to allow an extra set, per USA Today's Jeff Gluck:
Chatter on team radios about NASCAR giving teams an extra set of tires. Concern about running out.— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) March 23, 2014
Greg Stucker of Goodyear said that it wasn't an issue with the tires themselves; rather, the reason for the blowouts was because of the preparation for some teams:
Goodyear's Greg Stucker just visited press box. Says tire problems today due to aggressive setups, notes some teams haven't had any probs.— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) March 23, 2014
Gluck added that some tested the limits of the track, which may have been a miscalculation:
At Indy, the tires were disintegrating into dust. Here, some teams are pushing the limits with setups and air pressure in tires IMO.— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) March 23, 2014
The biggest question late in the race was how the leaders would handle the tire problem. Would they risk it and take two tires, or play it safer and get all four?
In the end, Kyle Busch took four before the final restart, which likely allowed him to overtake Larson and hold him off for the rest of the race. Kurt Busch and Stewart both took only two tires, so the gamble ultimately didn't pay off.
Even with such a crazy finish, arguably the most fun moment of the race came in the 69th lap.
Aric Almirola was driving up near the wall, while Brian Scott was at the bottom. As Almirola looked to make a move, his progress was impeded, so he had to slow down. Scott moved up anticipating Almirola to be gone, so when the No. 43 car was still there, the No. 33 couldn't help but to make contact, sending both cars into the infield.
Almirola was less than diplomatic in his post-wreck response, dropping some major bombs on Scott, per ESPN's Marty Smith:
"The 33 is a dart without feathers. Ran right into me." -- Aric Almirola on being wrecked by Brian Scott.— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) March 23, 2014
"He's not racing for points in this series. He's out there having fun because his daddy pays for it." -- More Almirola on Scott.— Marty Smith (@MartySmithESPN) March 23, 2014
With a comment like that, it's doubtful that you've seen the last of these two going at it on the track.
Drivers will head to Martinsville, Va., for next week's STP 500. Johnson is the defending champion, so this is a great chance for the 2013 points champion to get his first win of the 2014 season.
This win was huge for Busch, as he entered the Auto Club 400 in 14th in the points standings. He had yet to record even a top-five finish before Sunday. With this victory, he has set himself up well to qualify for the final chase, and he'll want to build on this momentum in Martinsville next week.