NASCAR’s Kyle Busch seeks rare 3-peat at Pocono
LONG POND — Kyle Busch has swept race weekends across all NASCAR series, so perhaps the idea of driving four times in next year’s packed Pocono slate would hold some appeal for the sport’s winningest driver.
“Hell no,” Busch said to laughter. “Not unless they put up a 50-grand bounty or something.”
Just $50,000 to compete in the Truck, Xfinity and two Cup Series races in 48 hours next June? That’s chump change in prize money for a driver who has won NASCAR’s richest races — and the 2015 Cup championship.
Busch’s Bounty has a nice promotional ring for Pocono.
And he could win them all.
Busch was tripped up for years by the tri-oval track, failing to win his first 25 tries in the elite Cup races until he broke through in July 2017 on a bump-and-run on Kevin Harvick to grab the lead with 16 laps and take the checkered flag.
Busch finished third in the first race last season and has won the last two times at Pocono. He stormed from the bottom half of the field to win last July and matched Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace for ninth on the NASCAR Cup Series career victory list with 55 when he took the checkered flag in June.
Busch has remained stuck on four wins in 2019 since Pocono but still has two runner-up finishes over the last six races.
With a victory Sunday, Busch could join Bobby Allison in 1982 and ’83 and Tim Richmond in 1986 and ’87 as the only drivers to win three straight Pocono races. Busch could become the eighth driver since NASCAR began racing at Pocono in 1974 to sweep both races here in a season, joining Bill Elliott in 1985, Bobby Labonte in ’99, Jimmie Johnson in ’04, Denny Hamlin in ’06, Dale Earnhardt Jr. in ’14, and Allison and Richmond.
“I’d love the opportunity to achieve that and be there alongside those guys,” Busch said Saturday. “It’s pretty cool to have some of those things when you go to different places and be able to score the wins like we have.”
Busch enters the weekend at Pocono with 206 career wins among NASCAR’s top three divisions: Cup (55), Xfinity (95) and Truck (56).
“The in-a-rows and the dominance at certain race tracks is obviously cool, too,” Busch said.
Busch’s losing skid at Pocono seems a distant memory, the kind of slump Harvick, another former NASCAR champ, would like to erase. Once the fiercest of rivals, Busch and Harvick have a relationship that has cooled in recent years, a mutual respect formed between two perennial championship contenders.
Harvick has won at every active track except Pocono and Kentucky. He is 0 for 37 at Pocono, though he was runner-up in both 2017 races.
“We’ve been in position a number of times to win here,” Harvick said. “We’ve had a lot of things go wrong here over the past several years. (We’re) in contention to win races, so if you stay in contention to win races long enough, you will.”
Just ask Busch.
Kyle Larson smacked the outside wall in the first practice session and was forced to go to a backup No. 42 Chevrolet. It was a familiar scene for Larson. He slammed the outside wall last week in practice at New Hampshire and was dumped to the rear of the field.
“I’ve got to stop being stupid,” Larson said.