Fontana, Calif. — Kyle Busch captured the checkered flag at the Pala Casino 400 for his 225th victory across all three NASCAR divisions. It was his fifth win at the Auto Club Speedway among three different racing teams.
“I think it’s just phenomenal…the guys did a great job,” Busch said after winning the race. “There were a couple moments where I got loose. I about busted my a** on that last run. So I was like, please don’t. But fortunately was able to hang on well enough and tried to find another groove that my car would work better in, so it was always a constant evolution of where you needed to be and just trying to work.
That’s what I enjoy the most about this racetrack. It’s a two-mile racetrack. It’s big, it gets spread out, but man, you can move around and you can spread out and you can make your own destiny by trying to find something else that will help work for your race car. It’s a sad day for me to see this racetrack be in its last race being a two-mile configuration. Glad I was able to win the final run here.”
It was a record breaking day for Busch who led 27 of the 200 laps on Sunday. Busch now holds the record for winning a Cup series race in 19 consecutive seasons breaking a tie with Richard Petty. Kurt and Kyle Busch now have a combined 95 Cup series wins making them the winningest brothers in NASCAR history.
Ross Chastain won the first and second stages of the race. Christopher Bell, who started the race from the pole, ended up in 32nd place due to an accident. Last week’s winner, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., started in second and finished in 12th position.
“We’ve got a great group on that 8 crew,” said Randall Burnett, crew chief for the No. 8 Chevrolet driven by Busch. “Kyle gets along with all of the guys. It’s nice to win a race early. This is our intermediate track as you’d say. It’s kind of a little breath of fresh air to get a win knocked out early and prepare for the playoffs. GM has put a lot of resources into the Cup program and the Xfinity program. There’s a lot more communication across the Chevy teams then they’re used to be. That’s helped the Chevy group be better overall. We’re gonna miss this place when it’s gone. Kyle got his first win as a cup driver here. To get this win is a cool thing for him. We’ll definitely miss this place, it’s a great place.”
The big crash took place on a restart on lap 86. That’s when several cars spun out and ended up in the front stretch grass. It took out Christopher Bell, Ryan Preece, Aric Almirola and Tyler Reddick. Ryan Blaney was also involved in the wreck but finished 26th.
There were 28 lead changes among 13 drivers. Ross Chastain led 91 laps, KYLE BUSCH led 27, Joey Logano led 19, Alex Bowman led 17, Ryan Blaney led 16, among other drivers. In addition, there were 8 caution flags for a total of 38 laps. The average speed during the race was 127.603 mph. The Pala Casino 400 lasted 3 hours, 8 minutes and 5 seconds.
NASCAR announced that the Auto Club Speedway will be torn down shortly after Sunday’s race. The 2-mile oval shaped race track will be rebuilt as a half-mile short track. NASCAR announced there will be no race in Fontana in 2024 but the new track could be ready by 2025.
Drivers lined up their cars in a five-wide salute to NASCAR fans. It’s an Auto Club Speedway tradition and it happened for the final time before the green flag dropped.
Race fans I spoke to said they love the track the way it is now and will be sad to see it go.
“It’s kind of surreal…a lot of people out here don’t want the track to be demolished,” said Anthony Falco from San Juan Capistrano, Calif. “We kind of want it to be how it is because we have a lot of great short tracks out here in California. A lot of people are just bummed. We’re all happy we get to see five-wide racing but we’re sad to see it go.”
“I think it’s a really good change and I can’t wait to see what it’s like when it’s complete,” said Joseph Trussell from Menifee, Calif. “I went to the final IndyCar race that was at this track and just the atmosphere and the race itself “The final lap where they flipped on the infield. It was just crazy, it was a great race.”
“I’m not happy about it because this is what we grew up with,” said Megan Parker from Nashville, Tenn. “We like the five-wide racing so it’s going to be a very different ballgame. Short track racing is very different. We’ll see what happens. Just growing up, infield camping, we used to do that every year. We didn’t this year, obviously, because of the weather. Being able to go on the track before the race is always fun.”
I asked race winner Kyle Busch, since it’s the last Cup race here, can you talk about any memories you’ve had over the years here?
Busch answered: “A lot. I would say that the first one that comes to mind is when I was 16 years old. I came here to run in the Craftsman Truck Series, and I practiced, I was fast he’s in practice and had a really fast truck and then somebody decided I wasn’t old enough to race, so they kicked me out. That was my welcome-to-NASCAR moment and welcome-to-California-Speedway moment.
But was able to come back, and when I came back here the next time I came back was — no, I ran Xfinity here. My first Cup Series start here I was able to qualify on the pole, and then we finished 25th, and then my second time here, I qualified 25th and I finished first. That one was much better.
But first win, my first Cup Series win was here. We’ve had five wins, including today, so just great time at California Speedway. There’s a few in there that I missed out on, but I think it was also here where I won — I was the first person to win two NASCAR races in the same day, Xfinity race and a Truck Series race if I’m not mistaken. Yeah, this place has had a lot of great memories.”
There were lots of celebrities in attendance at Sunday’s race. Don Felder, guitarist from The Eagles, performed a pre-race concert. U.S. Olympian Misty May-Treanor served as the honorary starter. Actor Michael Rooker was the grand marshal for the Pala Casino 400. Latin music artist Jackie Rivera performed the national anthem.
Next up: The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Las Vegas for the Pennzoil 400 on Sunday. That race will begin at 12:30 p.m. PT / 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX and MRN Radio.