By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
JOLIET, Ill. — The finish on Sunday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway is exactly the finish that the sport needs in a day and age when declines in ratings and attendance have become a significant concern. The fans that braved the hot, humid and muggy conditions got their money’s worth as Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson put on a fantastic final lap that resulted in beat-up sheet metal and a respectful handshake between two of the best competitors in the sport today.
With 20 laps to go in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400, Larson trailed Busch by 1.5 seconds but the dirt track ace was running the Las Vegas native down and the lap times indicated the duo would have a battle in the waning laps. Larson had a fast car on the long runs and as he often does, utilized the high line to get to the rear of Busch’s Toyota.
Larson dove to the bottom on the white flag lap in an attempt to pull a slide job on Busch that ultimately failed and resulted in contact between the two cars. Busch’s car made heavy contact with the wall and Larson pulled ahead and took the lead into Turn No. 3 before Busch returned the favor and put the bumper to Larson. As Larson saved his No. 42 Chevrolet in a lengthy slide, Busch drove away to the victory by 1.875 seconds.
“Larson just threw a dart there in Turn 1 and 2 and tried to pull a slide job,” Busch said of the final lap. “I don’t think he was close enough. He didn’t get enough clear on me to be able to slide. And when he got to me, he throttled up and drove us in the wall. And going down the backstretch, I lost all of my momentum. I tried to side-draft him as much as I could to keep him alongside of me. He cleared me and I gave him what he gave me back into Turn 3 and 4. And I was able to come back and get ahead.”
Busch didn’t have a car capable of winning in his opinion and didn’t score one single stage point in the first two stages of the 400-mile race. But that changed once the No. 18 Toyota got to the lead after the final round of pit stops with 55 laps to go and Busch noted it was a way different race car up front.
“We were horrible today. Absolutely horrendous,” Busch said. “Adam Stevens did a great job today and turned this into something we could go race with at the end. We just never gave up. It’s always good to make the most of the days and get to where we needed at the end. I was able to lead all of those laps. And get through the rest of the traffic. If you don’t like that kind of racing, don’t even watch.”
It was the fifth win of the 2018 season for Busch, while Larson has yet to visit victory lane.
Busch exited his No. 18 Skittles Red White & Blue Toyota at the start-finish line to a chorus of boos that grew louder as he took his infamous bow.
“Can’t thank the fans, my fans – they’re pretty passionate. They’re pretty powerful with what we got going with Rowdy Nation. The rest of of them, I don’t know what they’re booing about. It was a hell of a race. You got problems if you don’t like that.”
While Busch was happily celebrating in the makeshift victory lane set-up in the XFINITY Series garage due to the impending weather, one might have thought Larson would be angry and upset. Quite the contrary, as Larson headed over to offer a congratulatory handshake.
“Oh man, I’m not upset,” Larson said. “I had an opportunity there to slide in front of him and I figured I wouldn’t clear him or I would allow him to drive back underneath me. So, I tried to get to his door and you know I opened the door for him to retaliate into (Turn) 3. I thought it was free game. I ran into him first, he got me after that, maybe a little bit worse than I got him, but that is alright. I love racing Kyle (Busch). I know all these fans are probably mad at him, but hey we put on a hell of a show for you guys and that was a blast.
“That was an awesome finish. I hope the fans, even though they might be upset with him, enjoyed it.”