Much of the attention leading to Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis 400 was focused on sentimental favorites Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
The race – and the weekend – would belong to Kyle Busch.
Busch won the race in convincing fashion, leading 149 of 170 laps. In enduring two overtime periods to do so, Busch became the first driver in NASCAR history to win both Xfinity and Cup races from the pole in the same weekend. He also won both races at Indianapolis in 2015 on his way to the Cup championship.
In short, Busch has Indianapolis’s 2.5-mile layout figured out – again.
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“Every once in a while you’ll see somebody with a natural tendency to drive that fits the racetrack,” said Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief. “You’ve seen that from (Kevin) Harvick in Atlanta and Brad (Keselowski) at Kentucky. I think we’re seeing it now out of (Kyle), that really what he wants to do with the car is the fastest way around. Maybe what other guys want to do isn’t.”
Matt Kenseth, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, was second. Chevy-driving Jimmie Johnson overcame a pit-road penalty that put him a lap down at one point to finish third.
But although those laps-led numbers might indicate otherwise, this wasn’t an easy victory for Busch. In winning for the fourth time this season, he had to hold off the field on restarts after four yellow flags came out over the final 19 laps.
But whether it was Joey Logano, Carl Edwards, Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick – or anybody else – running at the front of the field with him, Busch never relinquished his lead.
“The repeat-ability there was something I wasn’t looking forward to,” Busch said. “I certainly didn’t want one, let alone (four) of them. You never know what is going to happen on those restarts. There’s a lot of gamesmanship that kind of gets played, and there was a little bit of back and forth a little bit with the guys in the different grooves. I think I had Kenseth to my outside. I had Truex to my outside. I think I had Carl to my outside and then Joey Logano to my outside, so there were a lot of different characters that we had to deal with on the restarts.
“But I always felt like I could hit my marks and set sail each time.”
Busch said it’s as simple as having a fast car. He said he has come to Indianapolis before and felt like he had a chance to win, but other drivers were simply faster on that particular day.
“There were guys that beat us on those days that were just lights out, just stupid faster than us,” he said. “Well, I finally got one of those (Sunday). We were lights out and just that fast.
“I felt pretty good to be up front, and obviously you’ve got to do everything in your power to not screw it up.”
Stevens, however, maintained there’s more to it.
“The way that (Busch) wants to drive is what the car, tire and aero package need at Indy,” Stevens said. “Where some guys might drive it harder or drive it easier, what they’re tuning their car to isn’t maybe the fastest way around. The way Kyle naturally drives this place is the fastest way around.
“Since we only come here once a year, that level of feedback he’s able to give us gets us in a little bit of a different area than some other guys.”
Busch used his 2015 Brickyard victory as a springboard to the championship, and Sunday’s triumph had a similar feel to it. It was also the ninth victory of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing, and the second in a row for the organization (Kenseth won last week at New Hampshire).
“One of the hardest things in pro sports is to stay up,” said team owner Joe Gibbs. “As hard as everybody works, you see the ups and downs. And normally when you’re down, it’s a short trip back up.”