When Kurt Busch caught wind that Chip Ganassi would be selling his NASCAR Cup Series team at the end of last season, his future was well in doubt. The veteran driver found a new home with 23XI Racing and has already delivered.
Kurt led a race-high 116 laps at Kansas today on his way to his first win of the season. It was the second victory for the team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan. The victory was the 34th of Kurt’s career, which snapped a 27-race winless streak. Busch becomes the 11th different race winner this year.
It was a memorable moment for Busch in his slick Jordan-brand paint scheme. “This is our first win for the No. 45 car and with the Jordan Brand on the hood, I felt like I had to win like the GOAT, race like the GOAT, and I had to beat the Kyles. If I can get one Kyle, I can get both. I beat both of them! This No. 45 car is a winner now.”
“It’s all about teamwork,” Kurt said. “I don’t do this alone. The way that Toyota has helped us, and Joe Gibbs Racing. My little brother has been so important just on the family side. You got to get through these steps. Bubba Wallace is a tremendous teammate. It’s the most gratifying to work from the ground up with a brand new car. Everybody at 23XI. This is what the hard work is all about.”
Kurt has now won a race with five different teams and four different manufacturers over the course of his career. Ironically enough, his last four wins have all come on 1.5-mile ovals. Before that, his last win on a 1-5.mile track came during the 2010 season. Today was also his first win at Kansas Speedway.
While Kurt was clearly one of the best on Sunday, the win did not come easy. It took a great car, great pit stops, great driving, and a little luck as well. Kyle Larson was leading on a restart with 23 laps remaining and appeared to have the win in hand until his No. 5 Chevrolet made slight contact with the wall. Kurt pounced and took over the lead with nine laps remaining and beat Larson to the finish line by 1.413-seconds.
The battle between Larson and the elder Busch brother was intense, but also very clean. “We were racing for the win there,” Larson said. “That was fun racing Kurt the last half of the race. He never got into me. I was trying hard the whole time. I about spun out in front of him there, but we just kept fighting. Thanks to my team for building me a war machine. I hit the wall a lot today and just struggled. We’ll work on that and figure it out.”
Larson was battling Camrys for much of the afternoon, but came up just one spot short of his second win of the season. Finishing just behind Kurt and Larson were the four Joe Gibbs drivers – Kyle Busch, Hamlin, pole sitter Christopher Bell, and Martin Truex Jr. It was nearly a clean sweep for Toyota, as Wallace’s 10th place finish put all six Toyota machines inside the top ten.
Hamlin started the race at the rear of the field, then went back two more times due to penalties. He rebounded for another top-five finish but was more excited about going to victory lane as an owner.
“I’m so proud of Kurt, and Bubba as well,” Hamlin said. “Bubba deserved a shot at the win. They were so much better than that. There were just mistakes, and we’re working on that. I feel like I’ve let these guys down with pit road, and it’s just part of it. It’s growing pains, but, man, this is what this team is capable of, and I’m so happy for Kurt. Way more joy than if I was winning.”
There were several drivers that had to deal with left-rear tire issues today. Most of those resulted in spins, to the tune of eight cautions for 47 laps. Bell was one of those that had a tire issue while at the front of the field. Tyler Reddick qualified on the front row as well, and he too had a tire go down while he was leading the race. It happened a third time when William Byron suffered a flat left-rear while in the lead.
Chase Elliott lost a tire on Lap 196 while running in 6th position. His No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports machine got stuck in the mud between Turns 3 and 4 and lost three laps while crews tried to pull him out of the wet grass.
The most bizarre sequence of the race took place on pit road when the Petty GMS team could not get the right-rear wheel off of Erik Jones’ car. The No. 43 Chevrolet lost seven laps as crew members tried multiple tools and methods of getting the wheel removed.
“We knew on that last pit stop something was wrong,” said tire carrier James Houk. “We knew it was going to be a while to get off. We contemplated going back and cutting the wheel completely off, which is actually what we ended up doing on pit road with a sawzall. And then it finally came off. Never seen it!”
Elliott continues to lead the championship points standings over Ryan Blaney and Kyle Busch. Byron holds the top seed in the Playoffs, followed by Ross Chastain, Elliott, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano.
The season has not yet reached the halfway point, but the series is set to host their All-Star event next weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Larson won the non-points race last year. Coverage for the All-Star Race at Texas begins at 8 PM ET on FS1.