Kyle Busch has more wins on NASCAR’s three national touring series than any driver not named Richard Petty, but Kansas Speedway had long bedeviled him.
Busch had managed only two top-10 finishes, none better than seventh, in his first 14 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at the 1.5-mile tri-oval, but he exorcised some demons Saturday by winning the Go Bowling 400 under the lights at Kansas.
“Certainly, this is a place that’s been tough on me over the years and probably almost caused me to go into retirement,” Busch said. “ … But I was just telling (crew chief) Adam Stevens, ‘I guess we have no excuses at Kansas anymore.’”
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For Busch, who turned 31 on Monday and goes by the nickname “Rowdy,” it was his 37th Cup victory and 162nd overall in the Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Trucks Series.
It’s also a fine start for Rowdy’s Checklist Tour as he seeks to become the only active driver with a win at all 23 tracks on the Cup Series schedule.
Entering the race, Kansas was one of only three tracks where Busch, who is the first driver with three Cup wins this season, hadn’t visited Victory Lane in the Cup Series, including Charlotte Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway.
Scratch Kansas — where Busch has won one trucks race and three Xfinity races — off the list.
“I want to hurry up and get to the two that he hasn’t won at, because he’s hot right now,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Busch’s No. 18 M&M’s Red Nose Toyota. “I know it’s a big deal for him. We know he can win anywhere.”
Busch, who overcome a grisly accident in the Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway last February and won his first Cup Series title in 2015, gets a crack May 29 at Charlotte and June 5 at Pocono.
“There’s one person in this room who definitely wants that to happen, because it will bookmark her birthday week, and that’s my wife,” Busch said. “She’s putting the pressure on, I’m sure, that we’ve got to go out there and score those wins in Charlotte and Pocono. I look forward to the challenge.”
Busch’s wife Samantha will celebrate her 30th birthday on June 1.
Busch, who missed the spring race at Kansas last season as he recovered from the injuries at Daytona, took the lead with 37 laps remaining, passing two-time Kansas winner Tony Stewart.
Busch, who didn’t pit during the final 56 laps, never relinquished that lead.
“We hadn’t really seen much speed in tires all night, not much tire falloff,” Stevens, said of the decision to eschew pit road. “It was about the perfect time to make that call. … It was just so hard to pass and the cars were so even, as soon as you get track position, you need to do all that you can to maintain it.”
Busch and two-time Kansas winner Matt Kenseth stayed out during a caution with 31 laps remaining and again five laps later after a four-car pileup, the only real melee in the 267-lap event.
Kenseth and Busch, who got an owner win in Friday’s Toyota Tundra 250 in the Trucks Series, remained on the front row when the green flag dropped after that sixth caution with 19 laps left.
Kevin Harvick easily went around Kenseth off the restart and set his sights on Busch, but he never managed to catch him.
“We had a big piece of debris knock a big hunk out of the nose and knock the splitter down,” said Harvick, who finished second. “From that point on, it was tight. Otherwise, we probably would have drove around him, but it didn’t play out that way”
Busch’s older brother, Kurt Busch, finished third, followed by Kenseth, who posted his best finish of the season but remains the only Gibbs driver without a Cup win this season.
Rookie Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five with the best finish of his Cup career.
Drivers expected the new low-downforce package to create a slippery track and plenty of passes, but Martin Truex Jr.’s early-race dominance — he led 172 of the first 215 laps — made things relatively uneventful.
That changed with 27 laps remaining.
Racing three-wide in turn four, Denny Hamlin tried to squeeze between Brad Keselowski in the low groove and Kyle Larson in the high groove.
Keselowski got sideways, but managed to save it.
Hamlin, who started third, wasn’t as lucky. He slid sideways, pinning Larson into the wall, and then got T-boned by Joey Logano.
The wreck took out Hamlin and Logano, who has won the last two fall races at Kansas. It was the only real carnage, but it wasn’t the only misfortune.
Truex, who started on the pole, checked out on the 40-car field early. He lapped two cars — Reed Sorenson and Joey Gase — within the first 21 laps and led Kenseth in second place by more than 4 seconds.
It was a similar story on most restarts before Truex went down a lap with 51 laps remaining after a broken bolt in the wheel well forced him to make an unscheduled pit stop.
Truex rallied and finished 14th.
Columbia native Carl Edwards’ dream of a win at Kansas was dashed again on lap 84. He fell down two laps after scraping the wall, which left him with a flat right rear tire.
Edwards slipped from seventh to 34th. He worked his way back to the lead lap and into the top 10, but a loose wheel with 46 laps remaining shuffled him back again and he wound up 11th.