By STEPHEN HAWKINS
AP Sports Writer
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Kyle Busch’s return to Victory Lane only 10 races after his last win just seemed to take much longer. There were all those runner-up inishes in between, one in particular. A runner-up finish in the 2017 season finale kept Busch from winning another NASCAR Cup Series championship, something he ad to contemplate the entire offseason. Then he had three runner-up finishes in the first six races this year, including two that Kevin Harvick won.
On Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, points leader Busch finished ahead of Harvick and the rest of the field for Joe Gibbs Racing’s first victory this season. “Certainly being that close, it gets a little old a little faster,” Busch said. “If you’re finishing fifth or 10th or whatever, and you’re just not capable of winning, it certainly will draw longer as well too. … Being as close as you are, that kind hurts a little bit more, especially that final one, that Homestead one.”
Busch stayed in front of Harvick the last 24 laps after the final restart, getting his third win at Texas and 44th of his career. The No. 18 Toyota led 116 of the 334 laps at the 1 1/2-mile track.
“They were probably just a tick faster overall, but I just had to make sure to do everything I could to hit all my marks and everything to focus on making sure that I did the right things to block his air a little bit,” Busch said. Jamie McMurray finished third, ahead of Erik Jones. Ryan Blaney was fifth a day after winning the Xfinity Series race. Since finishing 25th in the season opener at Daytona, Busch has been in the top seven the last six races. “We’ve just been on a roll of finishing really good and getting really pumped and excited about that and
the momentum we were able to carry, but frustrated at the same time trying to get to Victory Lane,” he said.
Harvick, who won at Texas in November, led 87 of the first 129 laps and won the first stage. But he had issues on pit road, including a strange incident during a caution when a lugnut popped loose and into the jack. He dropped from first to ninth on that stop, then had to come back in a few laps later because of a loose wheel. There was another stop when Harvick, who dropped back as far as 27th place and a lap behind the leader, got a penalty for an extra man over the wall when a tire got loose in the pit. “We did overcome a lot. … We had a pathetic day on pit road, two days on pit road, because of pit guns,” Harvick said. “When you have a pit gun problem like we have multiple times and been able to overcome it and then today we couldn’t overcome it. Time after time you can’t get the lug nuts tight because the pit guns don’t work.”
A DIFFERENT 1.5 WINNER
Harvick and reigning Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. had won the previous eight Cup races on 1 1/2-mile tracks. Truex had won five and Harvick the other three, including the first two this season. But Truex wasn’t even around for the finish of this one. The first 85-lap stage ended under caution after a front right tire blew on his No. 78 Toyota, which shot up the track and slammed hard into the outer wall. Truex, second to Harvick at the time, finished last in the 37-car field. “Just blew a right-front tire out of nowhere. Not sure what happened there,” Truex said. “All in all we were going to be in for a good day. We were making the car better and still had room to go. We were as fast as anybody. At least that’s a positive.”
TOP 10 FOR SHS WITH TOP 3
Kurt Busch, the pole sitter, finished seventh. Stewart-Haas Racing had the top three starters in a race for the first time with Harvick, Busch and Clint Bowyer, and all finished their Fords in the top 10. Bowyer, coming off a win two weeks ago at Martinsville to end his 190-race winless streak, was ninth.
CHAMP’S STREAK TURNS 30
Jimmie Johnson’s career-long winless streak reached 30 races after the seven-time Cup Series champion was taken out in a seven-car incident. Johnson, who has a record seven Cup wins at Texas, was running in the middle of the pack when he was caught in the melee on the first lap after the restart following the completion of the second stage. Denny Hamlin got loose and spun in front of Johnson, who has 83 career wins but hasn’t been to Victory Lane since Dover last June.
“Unfortunate circumstances, but a lot to build on from this weekend. A strong Friday, a fantastic Saturday and then not the best Sunday,” Johnson said. “We are getting closer each and every week. … We will get back to our winning ways soon.” Others cars involved were Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon, Trevor Bayne, Aric Almirola and David Ragan.
TOP 10 ROOKIES
Bubba Wallace and William Byron, the two rookies in the series, both finished in the top 10.
Wallace was eighth, the first time he’s been better than 20th since a runner-up finish at the Daytona 500 in the season opener. Byron was 10th for his first top-10 finish.
The series is back to short-track racing next Sunday at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway, where Johnson and Kyle Busch both won races last year. Johnson won in the spring and Busch in the fall night race.
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