LONG POND, Pa. — Kyle Busch watched the number of laps he’s led this season tick, tick, tick as it crossed 1,000, and he only really cared about the lap he hadn’t led: the last one.
“We’ve had speed. We’ve been right there,” Busch said. “We’ve been able to do what we should be doing and that’s running up front.”
For all that time up front, Busch also had the longest losing streak of his career, a rare recession over his time building a resume even NASCAR Hall of Famers would envy, with the 2015 Cup championship, 176 wins over three series and an elite ride for Joe Gibbs Racing.
He can add two more feats to the list — 13 straight years with a Cup win and his first checkered flag at Pocono.
Busch used a bump-and-run on Kevin Harvick to take the lead with 16 laps left and held on to snap a 36-race losing streak and win the NASCAR Cup race at Pocono Raceway on Sunday.
“I never thought this day would happen,” Busch said.
Busch won from the pole and gave Toyota its 100th Cup win since its 2007 debut. Busch had Toyota’s first Cup win in March 2008 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Busch had never gone a full season without winning a race. Charlotte Motor Speedway is now the only track where he’s failed to win a Cup points race.
“I wasn’t sure which one was going to be last,” he said.
Busch had seven top-five finishes this season and was runner-up to Austin Dillon in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. All the near misses have gnawed at Busch, who won the All-Star race — at Charlotte. But the exhibition race doesn’t count in the season standings and Busch was in a victory slump that dated to the 2016 Brickyard 400.
He was racing for the lead last weekend in the Brickyard 400 when he wrecked with Martin Truex Jr., which led to a pit road altercation between members of both teams.
He also won his 176th career NASCAR race over the Cup (39), Xfinity (89) and Truck (48) series.
“We’ve all been fighting all year long and just wasn’t sure why,” Busch said. “This is something I’ve been waiting for for a long, long time. It’s been a frustrating year but an awesome day today.”
Harvick finished second, followed by Truex, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski. Harvick, who hasn’t won in 34 career races at Pocono, said he had nothing for Busch down the stretch.
“There was no battle. He was way faster than we were,” Harvick said.
Crew chief Adam Stevens made the right calls a week after his confrontation on pit road with members of Truex’s team. JGR suspended two of Truex’s tire changers because of the profane outburst at the Brickyard. JGR provides the pit crew for Furniture Row Racing as part of a technical alliance, giving them the authority to suspend members of the FRR team.
Eau Claire native Paul Menard finished 19th in the race, moving up eight spots from his qualifying spot of 27th.
Busch earned a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs, a significant victory that left just three open spots with five races left before the 16-driver field is set. JGR had been winless overall until Hamlin won two weeks ago at New Hampshire.
“I didn’t fear we wouldn’t make the Chase with our points position,” Stevens said.
Samantha Busch was stressed about her husband’s season, tweeting before the race , “160 laps. We haven’t even started and I’m a ball of nerves. Please let this be the day for the 18!”
It was. She was in tears over the final laps and celebrated in victory lane a win that her husband dedicated to his late grandmother.
Up next, a run at a second championship.
“I think our stats and our runs and our speed shows for itself,” Busch said.
Other items of note at Pocono:
— NASCAR found a loose lug nut on the 18 and Stevens could be fined $10,000. He does not face a suspension.
— An eight-car wreck on the first lap knocked Aric Almirola and Matt DiBenedetto out of the race. Matt Kenseth got loose and spun to trigger the accident.
Almirola missed two months of the season with a fractured vertebra suffered in a race at Kansas.
“Sort of a bummer not to even make a whole lap,” he said.
— Jimmie Johnson wrecked and did not finish for the third time in the last four races. Johnson connected with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne and was spun into the wall.
The seven-time Cup champion also crashed out of the first Pocono race in June.
— NASCAR held qualifying before the race instead of earlier in the weekend. Pocono had no Cup cars on the track Friday during the condensed schedule. NASCAR will try the two-day show again next week at Watkins Glen and Oct. 29 at Martinsville.
“Just thankful for the opportunity to have the two-day shows,” Busch said. “We love spending time with our families, and being on the road, that is sometimes difficult.”
— The series shifts to the road course at Watkins Glen. Hamlin is the defending race winner.