LONG POND, Pa. — Kyle Busch had no one to bump him out of the lead this week and stormed from the bottom half of the field Sunday at Pocono Raceway on the way to his sixth NASCAR Cup victory of the season.
Busch was set to start second but his No. 18 Toyota was one of 13 cars dumped to back of the pack for flunking post-qualifying inspection. That was nothing but a minor bump for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver who matched Kevin Harvick for most wins this season.
Harvick used a bump-and-run on the 18 with seven laps left last week at New Hampshire to knock Busch out of contention.
Harvick’s pole qualifying run also was tossed out but he ended up leading 30 laps and finished fourth.
The race was red flagged with six laps left in the wake of a violent wreck by Darrell Wallace Jr. Wallace lost the breaks in his No. 43 Chevrolet and the car shot across the grass and slammed into the wall. There were several tense seconds during a wait for Wallace to put down his window net. He sat on the track and slumped against the car before he taken to the track medical center.
Once the race resumed, Busch zipped away and he surged ahead again on the final restart in overtime to add to the win total for NASCAR’s Big Three: Busch, Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. have won 16 of the 21 Cup Series.
“What’s crazy is, how this year keeps going,” Busch said. “Harvick gets one, we get one, Truex gets one. We’re all back and forth.”
Busch tied three-time champ Tony Stewart for 13th on the career wins list with 49.
“You keep reaching higher up the ladder and you keep reaching more milestone drivers,” Busch said. “Tony Stewart is one of the all-time best and one of the drivers that I was a fan of growing up. It’s awesome to be able to tie him. There’s many more. We want to keep going.”
Busch held off a pair of young drivers aiming for their first career Cup win. Daniel Suarez, the first Mexican driver to win the pole for a Cup race, finished second and Alex Bowman was third.
Suarez, also a JGR driver, entered 20th in the points standings and desperately needed a win to earn an automatic berth for NASCAR’s playoffs. There are just five races left before the 16-driver field is set.
Only seven drivers have won races this season.
Harvick had a shot at his seventh win until his car was damaged on pit road and he slipped again to the back of the pack. Harvick is 0 for 36 at Pocono and has yet to win there or at Kentucky Speedway.
Busch made it look easy at Pocono this weekend, with a win Saturday in the Truck Series race. He won for the 192nd time over the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series.
He has Cup wins this year at Texas, Bristol, Richmond, Charlotte and Chicagoland. He hasn’t gone more than three races without a winning a race since April. Busch had never won at Pocono until July 2017. He’s won 10 races since that date and led more than 2,000 laps.
Here are other items of note at Pocono.
Wallace had one of the hardest hits a driver can have at Pocono in a blow somewhat cushioned by the protective barriers.
“That was a huge hit,” he said. “Mom, everybody back at home, I’m OK. That scared the hell out of me.”
Wallace just signed a two-year contract extension through 2020 with Richard Petty Motorsports.
He said he felt helpless and the wreck “scared the hell out of me.”
“Everything was good. They gave me an ultrasound, no twins or anything,” Wallace said.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson finished 17th in his 600th career start. He became the 30th driver to make 600 starts and failed to match Richard Petty as the only driver to win that milestone race.
Suarez, Harvick and Busch were among 13 teams whose cars flunked post-qualifying inspection on Saturday and dropped to the rear of the field.
“They know what the tolerances are and they were out of tolerance,” NASCAR COO Steve Phelps said. “No one likes it. We don’t like it for sure.”
The series shifts toward the road course where at Watkins Glen, where Truex is the defending race winner.