It didn't take long, only two races in fact, for Richard Childress to look like an absolute genius, as Kyle Busch is a NASCAR Cup Series race winner yet again. In Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series Pala Casino 400 at Auto Club Speedway, Busch destroyed the field in the final Stage of the race to score his first-career victory in the RCR stable.
Busch started from 21st position and had to endure a pit road speeding penalty on his journey to the front of the field. Busch took the lead for the first of three times on lap 138. In all, Busch led a total of 27 laps, including the final 21 circuits of the race.
After having a car that was on a rail all race long, Busch credited his hard-working No. 8 team.
"The guys did a great job. [Crew chief] Randall [Burnett], everybody that has worked so hard in the offseason. We've done a lot of sim stuff. We've done a lot of testing in general, just trying to get up to speed," Busch explained. "Systems and all of that sort of stuff, but there is nothing more rewarding than getting to go to victory lane."
The driver of the No. 8 LUCAS Oil Chevrolet Camaro not only won Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway, but Busch also looked to be heading toward certain victory in last weekend's Daytona 500 before a caution with two laps to go put his hopes of winning in a perilous position.
"Coulda, shoulda, woulda, right? Last week," Busch said. "No, I think it's just phenomenal. I can't thank Richard and Judy enough. I can't thank Austin (Dillon) [enough] for calling me and getting me talking and getting me this opportunity to be able to come to RCR and be a part of Chevrolet."
It's an incredible turnaround for Busch, who only scored one victory, which came at the Dirt Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, in 2022.
The Las Vegas native has now secured his place in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and his NASCAR Cup Series career-wins total sits at 61 after Sunday's race.
After Fontana, Busch and JTG Daugherty Racing's Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who won the season-opening Daytona 500, find themselves in a position to advance to the Playoffs by way of finding victory lane.
Busch finished nearly three seconds ahead of Chase Elliott, his closest competitor in the closing laps of the race.
While it wasn't a win, the finish marked Elliott's best finish of his career at the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway, which saw its final race on Sunday. Elliott was hopeful after the race that his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team has cured some of the performance issues that ailed him during the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
"Just really proud of our team," Elliott said. "We, obviously, didn't run very good there towards the end of the year last year. Just everybody really went to work hard over the winter just trying to get better. Appreciate everybody on our NAPA team for just sticking with it and sticking with each other. I think we still have some work to do, but it was really nice to see the hard work pay off and have the car driving like we were wanting it to do."
Ross Chastain, who swept Stages 1 and 2 in Sunday's race and led a race-high 91 laps, finished third behind Busch and Elliott. Chastain's Trackhouse Racing teammate Daniel Suarez came home in fourth and Kevin Harvick, who is in the midst of his final NASCAR Cup Series season, finished fifth.
Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, and Joey Logano rounded out the top 10 finishers in the race.
Overall, the Pala Casino 400 was a hard-fought race for the entire field. Despite no practice or qualifying, the drivers and teams laid it all on the line in the race.
There were a total of 28 lead changes in the event and the race was stopped eight times for cautions with four of the cautions coming for multi-car incidents.