Busch Drives To Win As SoCal Drives Off Into The Sunset

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 27 2023

NASCAR Cup Series drivers borrowed a sprint car racing tradition when they paraded around Auto Club Speedway in a four-wide salute to the fans prior to the start of Sunday’s race. The series is exiting Southern California and the track in Fontana will be demolished. (Photos courtesy of NASCAR)

The end of an era overshadowed the winner of Sunday’s NASCAR stop on the west coast. 

When the checkered flag waved on the final lap of the Pala Casino 400, it signified the end, at least for the foreseeable future, NASCAR’s coveted presence in Southern California. 

Kyle Busch, in just his second start for Richard Childress Racing, flexed muscle late in the going and carried the organization’s legendary car owner to victory lane in the 200-lap event at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

It also meant Busch had written the final chapter in the speedway’s quarter century history.

On Monday, a demolition crew is scheduled to begin dismantling the speedway, which opened in 1997 to a sellout crowd.

But relatively small gatherings in the massive frontstretch grandstand during the past 15 years eventually spelled doom for the facility located 45 miles each of Los Angeles.

There is a possibility a short track will be constructed on a portion of the property in 2024.

But as of now, a glaring void will exist on next season’s NASCAR schedule in the form of no appearances in the country’s third-largest market, trailing only New York City and Chicago. .

SoCal fans got one last look at the Cup Series on Sunday.

A sellout crowd was on-hand during Sunday’s finale to watch the Cup Series top drivers wage a competitive war on the abrasive surface, which forced teams to pit for fresh tires each time the caution flag waved.

When all of the jockeying concluded, the veteran Busch found himself with a commanding lead over Chase Elliott as he crossed the stripe to notch the victory.

The Las Vegas native’s first comment afterwards was a reflection of last Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500 which Busch nearly won, a race he was leading with less than two laps remaining in regulation.

“Yeah,coulda-shoulda-woulda last week,” Busch said. ”But no, I think this is just phenomenal. I can’t thank Richard and (his wife) Judy enough. I can’t thank (teammate) Austin (Dillon) for calling me and getting me this opportunity to come over here to RCR and be a part of Chevrolet.

“To be able to put it up front like that…man! There’s nothing more rewarding than going to Victory Lane.”       

Elliott, who finished a distant second, sounded relieved after bouncing back from a disastrous run at Daytona last week, an event in which he never led and was ultimately swept up in a race-ending crash just past the halfway point. 

“I’m just proud of our team,” said Elliott, the 2020 NASCAR Cup champion. “We obviously didn’t run very good toward the end of last year, and everybody really went to work hard over the winter to try and get better. 

Kyle Busch won his first race as a driver for Richard Childress Racing on Sunday.

“I want to congratulate Kyle. For him to leave (Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota) and then to go get the job done like that (for RCR and Chevrolet) is pretty cool. 

“He’s always been really good to me. So, I’m happy for them.” 

Ross Chastain, who led the most laps, wound up third, just ahead of Daniel Suarez and California native Kevin Harvick.

The Cup Series’ west coast swing continues next weekend with Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

FOX and PRN will provide coverage of the event, which is set to begin at 3:30 p.m. ET.


NASCAR Cup Series Race – Pala Casino 400

Auto Club Speedway

Fontana, California

Sunday, February 26, 2023

  1. (21)  Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 200.
  2. (33)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 200.
  3. (8)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 200.
  4. (7)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 200.
  5. (10)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 200.
  6. (13)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 200.
  7. (16)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 200.
  8. (4)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 200.
  9. (28)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 200.
  10. (3)  Joey Logano, Ford, 200.
  11. (14)  Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 200.
  12. (2)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Chevrolet, 200.
  13. (5)  Chris Buescher, Ford, 200.
  14. (12)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 200.
  15. (24)  Harrison Burton, Ford, 200.
  16. (23)  Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 200.
  17. (25)  Todd Gilliland, Ford, 200.
  18. (26)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 200.
  19. (34)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 200.
  20. (31)  Chase Briscoe, Ford, 200.
  21. (29)  Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 199.
  22. (20)  Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 199.
  23. (22)  JJ Yeley, Ford, 199.
  24. (30)  BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 199.
  25. (32)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 198.
  26. (9)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 196.
  27. (11)  Cody Ware, Ford, 195.
  28. (19)  Austin Cindric, Ford, 194.
  29. (15)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 185.
  30. (18)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, Engine, 172.
  31. (36)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, Engine, 140.
  32. (1)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, Accident, 88.
  33. (27)  Ryan Preece, Ford, Accident, 87.
  34. (35)  Tyler Reddick, Toyota, Accident, 87.
  35. (17)  Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 86.
  36. (6)  AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Accident, 75.


Average Speed of Race Winner:  127.603 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 8 Mins, 5 Secs. Margin of Victory:  2.998 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  8 for 38 laps.

Lead Changes:  28 among 13 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   C. Bell 1;A. Bowman 2-17;R. Chastain 18-27;J. Logano 28-29;R. Blaney 30-42;J. Logano 43;R. Blaney 44-46;R. Chastain 47-67;A. Bowman 68;R. Chastain 69-72;D. Hamlin 73-74;J. Logano 75-76;A. Dillon 77-79;N. Gragson # 80;J. Logano 81-92;D. Hamlin 93-97;R. Chastain 98-132;J. Logano 133;K. Harvick 134-137;K. Busch 138-141;J. Logano 142;K. Busch 143-144;K. Harvick 145;R. Chastain 146-166;C. Elliott 167;D. Hamlin 168-171;B. Keselowski 172-173;M. McDowell 174-179;K. Busch 180-200.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Ross Chastain 5 times for 91 laps; Kyle Busch 3 times for 27 laps; Joey Logano 6 times for 19 laps; Alex Bowman 2 times for 17 laps; Ryan Blaney 2 times for 16 laps; Denny Hamlin 3 times for 11 laps; Michael McDowell 1 time for 6 laps; Kevin Harvick 2 times for 5 laps; Austin Dillon 1 time for 3 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 2 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 1 lap; Noah Gragson # 1 time for 1 lap; Christopher Bell 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 1,12,99,48,11,24,22,4,19,9

Stage #2 Top Ten: 1,8,22,4,99,11,9,48,6,7



| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 27 2023
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