The driver of the No. 18 Toyota got what he needed late in Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway — cautions and short runs in the final 40 laps — to win his third straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, matching Kevin Harvick’s feat from earlier in the season.
Busch streaked away from the rest of the field on a series of late restarts, ultimately beating Chase Elliott to the checkered flag in overtime to record his fifth victory at the .75-mile short track and the 46th of his career, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker for 15th on the all-time list.
Pit stops were a crucial aspect of Busch’s victory. Under caution on Lap 370 for a chain-reaction accident involving Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman, Busch’s crew got the No. 18 Toyota Camry off pit road first and repeated the feat on Lap 391 after David Ragan’s spin in Turn 3 slowed the action for the fifth time.
“I think the difference for us tonight was just the adjustments (to the car),” Busch said. “Trying to stay with the race track all night long. (Crew chief) Adam Stevens and my guys did a phenomenal job. I think one of the other keys to the night was just my guys — my pit crew. They got us out front when it mattered the most those last two pit stops. They were awesome tonight on pit road.”
Busch started 32nd after a conservative qualifying strategy backfired. That was the deepest in the field a winner had ever started at Richmond. Clint Bowyer held the previous mark, winning from 31st in 2008.
But can Busch win four straight, when the series moves to Talladega next weekend? That’s a tall order, given the vagaries of restrictor-plate racing.
“It’s definitely cool we’ve won three in a row,” Busch said. “We did it a couple years ago, and now I don’t know if you can shoot for four in a row. It’s hard to go to Talladega with that much of a winning streak and think that you can go to Victory Lane, but we’re going to go there anyway and give it a shot.
“We’ll see what we can do … I think it’s easier to win the Power Ball than to win at Talladega.”
The last driver to win four straight Monster Energy Series races was Jimmie Johnson, who secured his second series title in 2007 with consecutive playoff victories at Martinsville, Atlanta, Texas and Phoenix.
Elliott finished second for the eighth time in his career, improving from seventh to second over a succession of restarts, passing Denny Hamlin for the runner-up spot after a Lap 401 restart in the NASCAR Overtime.
“Yeah, just very fortunate circumstances there at the end for us, with the way the restarts went,” Elliott said. “Having a short run there at the end was definitely in our favor. So it was nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while.
“Looking forward, we have to be realistic about how we ran tonight. I think the result shouldn’t weigh into how hard we worked this week because we have some work to do. I think that we have to keep that in mind.”
Hamlin held third, followed by Joey Logano, who won both the first and second stages before the handle on his No. 22 Team Penske Ford Fusion deteriorated slightly after the sun set. Kevin Harvick ran fifth, overcoming a penalty when one of his crewmen threw pit equipment across his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Fusion during a stop under caution at the end of Stage 1.
Johnson came from oblivion to run sixth after brushing the outside wall early in the race, losing a lap on the track and suffering through a lengthy pit stop that sent him to the back of the field. Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez completed the top 10.