RICHMOND, Va. — Kyle Busch had a big smile on his face in the grandstands while high-fiving race fans. What was this, a Mars family convention?
No, it was Richmond Raceway, a track branding itself as “Richmond Raceway Reimagined” with a new infield development project.
But c’mon, who saw this coming even three or four years ago? A guy who needed an escort out of the track 10 years ago now goes into the grandstands to celebrate a victory in the Toyota Owners 400.
The only thing easy to imagine about what occurred Saturday night at the short track was Busch winning his third consecutive NASCAR Cup Series race.
The 2015 series champion certainly ranks as one of the best in the business, his now 46 Cup wins tying him with Buck Baker on the all-time wins list.
Those 46 Cup wins maybe has brought respect from a crowd that typically isn’t really all that pro-Kyle, who joined Dale Earnhardt Jr. on his podcast earlier in the week to talk about their infamous finish 10 years ago in which Busch turned Earnhardt, leaving the door open for Clint Bowyer to win.
Busch saw some of his fans near the flagstand after the race, so he went into the stands to celebrate.
His team owner, Joe Gibbs, didn’t know it happened. He found out as he sat next to Busch in the postrace news conference.
“Oh my gosh,” Gibbs said before turning to his driver and saying, “You should not do that. I do not [encourage it].”
Gibbs then thought about it for a quick second.
“I think it’s great, though,” Gibbs said. “He went up there … and he came back. That’s what’s even better. They didn’t keep him.”
Busch tried to explain.
“It was the 10-year anniversary of you know what, and I was wondering if I would come out alive,” Busch said. “I saw a lot of yellow there at the front fence line, and I saw a little bit of black, which was the championship jacket from our season back in ’15.
“Don’t worry — I was definitely eyeing it out.”
If there is one thing Busch does have, it’s incredible vision and feel for certain situations, at least in a race car. It was just one of those loving, NASCAR race nights, a relatively calm affair for a .75-mile track.
Even the one main feud, or possible feud, was non-existent after the race. Jamie McMurray had rubbed Kyle Larson, his Chip Ganassi teammate, under caution in apparent frustration with about 30 laps remaining.
The two drivers were parked several yards away from each other after the race. McMurray got out of his car, and team manager Max Jones went over to make sure he was OK; he said he was, and then he feigned any frustration as he walked back to the garage, saying “nothing” was going on between the two and he didn’t have a problem with Larson. The rubbing incident under caution? “I don’t know,” McMurray said.
Larson seemed perplexed over McMurray’s frustration.
“I’m sure we’ll talk and it will be fine,” Larson said. “That’s honestly the first time Jamie and I ever made contact, and racing for a lucky dog and his car was destroyed — not that it makes it any better.
“I don’t know. We’ll be fine.”
The guy who finished second? He wasn’t mad, either. Chase Elliott never led a lap and had one of those days in which he felt fairly fortunate to start second and finish second, as he fell out of the top-10 by the midway point.
“I’m not as frustrated to run second as I have been before,” Elliott said. “In all reality, we didn’t deserve to run second from a pace standpoint. From a pit-stop standpoint and the circumstances and the way things played out, we ended up in decent shape.”
The guy who finished third, Denny Hamlin, could only compliment his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate on the win.
“[He’s] kicking ass,” he said. “He’s winning them in different ways. … Honestly, his pit crew did a good job getting him out first there [near the end]. Once you can start dictating these restarts on green-white checkered, 10 laps to go, it’s really hard to beat you.
“So they’re winning them in dominating fashion, and they’re winning them by being up front and putting themselves in position. Tonight, they probably won on pit road.”
Busch started 32nd, his worst starting spot ever for a Cup victory. He did it on a night in which there were only two cautions — the two stage breaks — in the first 354 laps. Four cautions for 25 laps over the final 48 brought the race to a dramatic conclusion including the first overtime finish since the Daytona 500.
“Even though there wasn’t a lot of cautions, the racing was really good,” said Joey Logano, who finished fourth. “Cars were coming and going and moving around the racetrack. I’d get passed early in the run and get them all back in the end, and vice versa sometimes.
“And it came down to a late-race restart. I don’t know what else you can ask for. It was really fun for me as a driver.”
The fun might end next week for Busch. He pretty much expects it to.
“It’s pretty cool to win three in a row,” Busch said. “That’s really special. We did that in ’15 and almost won four in a row. … Next week, we go to Talladega.
“I think it’s easier to win the Powerball than to win at Talladega. But we’ll give it a go anyways and see what we get.”