Kyle Busch gets 200th win in California

Kyle Busch overcame a pit road speeding penalty to get his 200th NASCAR win Sunday in the Auto Club 400 in Fontana.

Busch also won the first two stages of the race.

The penalty happened when Busch joined other drivers down pit road after the second stage, and it forced the driver to the back of the field.

He began weaving his bright green No. 18 Joe Gibbs Toyota through traffic, driving high near the outside wall to gain momentum, then sliding low between cars to avoid backups.

Each track-spanning maneuver put him closer to the front, although he still had plenty of cars to pass by lap 127. And he kept passing them.

He was second to Ryan Blaney with 31 laps left on the race’s final restart after a caution.

But the race wasn’t over. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski soon found themselves balling for the lead, and Busch found himself battling his own brother, Kurt, to keep third place.

Behind them, other drivers were trading paint, trying to advance.

Meanwhile, Kyle Busch passed the frontrunners to gain the lead and distance himself from the pack, taking the checkered flag with more than two seconds to spare.

Auto Club Speedway was ready for Busch’s victory, handing him a “200 Wins” banner he waved as he drove past fans on the front stretch of the track.

How did his 200th win feel? “Just like No. 1. It feels like yesterday. Man, that was such an awesome race car,” he said. “I’m glad we put on a heck of a show for all these fans in California.

Historically, motorsports hasn’t considered green a lucky color, but Busch bragged on his sponsor Interstate Batteries’ paint scheme. “It takes green to get into Victory Lane on St. Patrick’s Day!”

Busch won last week’s TicketGuardian 500 in Phoenix, Ariz., but missed winning the Pennzoil 400 at his home track at Las Vegas, Nev., again to a penalty.

Logano, who finished second, said he enjoyed battling for the lead “before 18 blew our doors off….We were so strong, but didn’t have anything for that green car!”

Keselowski said his car was “a little off all day,” although he praised his team for helping him get a third-place finish after brushing the wall during the race.

Fourth-place Kevin Harvick of Bakersfield, also experienced car problems that should have caused him to finish farther back. “We overachieved today,” he said. “We got a top-five finish from a car that was not very good.”

Getting 200 career wins in NASCAR is no easy feat. Unlike the legendary Richard Petty, whose 200-win record came exclusively in the top series of stock car racing, Busch has earned his victories in what is now called the Gander Truck Series, the Xfinity Series and the top of the line, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series, in which Sunday was his 53rd win.

Both Busch and Petty agree that it’s impossible to compare their individual accomplishments.

Retired champion and Vallejo native Jeff Gordon, now part of FOX’s motorsports commentators, said, “You cannot argue how good Kyle Busch is.”

Pairing Busch with Petty, he said, “They both gave themselves more opportunities to win than anyone else.” He said Busch’s prospects to get 100 Cup wins are good; he won eight races last year and has the back-to-back victories early in the 2019 season. “He might get there,” Gordon said.

“Congratulations to my little brother,” Kurt Busch said. “He was the lazy one on the couch!” He said the number of his brother’s wins is significant, especially since they come across multiple levels of NASCAR races.

“When you run trucks, Xfinity and Cup, you are wearing your body out,” Kurt said. “I’m proud of him.”

Behind Kyle Busch, Logano, Keselowski and Harvick came Blaney, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. Aric Almirola and the pole sitter, Austin Dillon, who had been so sick before the race that the track care center gave him two bags of fluids before the race’s start.

Of other Californians in the race, Elk Grove’s Kyle Larson was 12th, El Cajon native Jimmie Johnson was 17th and Grass Valley’s Matt DiBenedetto was 18th.

This race wrapped up the “western swing” of the 2019 schedule. Drivers go to Martinsville Speedway in Virginia for the STP 500. Broadcast on FOX Sports starts at 11 a.m. Sunday, March 24.

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