MADISON, Ill. — Kyle Busch collected his 63rd NASCAR Cup Series victory on Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway, but the driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet had to work hard for the first-place money.
Busch, the pole winner, survived five restarts in the last 40 laps of the Enjoy Illinois 300 and beat Denny Hamlin to the finish line by 0.517 seconds after Bubba Wallace‘s broken brake rotor caused the 11th caution on Lap 236 and sent the race to overtime.
The victory was Busch‘s first at the 1.25-mile track and the third in his debut season with RCR. It was a home game for his crew chief, Randall Burnett, who grew up in Fenton, Missouri, and had family in attendance on Sunday.
“That was pretty awesome,” Busch exulted after he climbed from his car. “Man, to sit on the pole, lead a lot of laps and have my guys do such a great job today was pretty phenomenal for us. Great for RCR. Just win, baby! Thanks to Team Chevy, appreciate (sponsor) 3Chi…
“We’re going to have a great time with this one. This one is pretty cool.”
Busch led five times for 121 laps, including the last 60. Neither Hamlin nor third-place finisher Joey Logano — winner of the inaugural Gateway race last year — led a single circuit.
Kyle Larson parlayed a two-tire call on Lap 178 into improved track position and a fourth-place finish. Martin Truex was fifth, followed by Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suárez, William Byron, Michael McDowell and Kevin Harvick.
Blaney led 83 laps and Byron 30. Byron pitted from the lead on Lap 178 but fell to fourth with an uncharacteristically slow stop and faded in traffic after the subsequent Lap 184 restart.
Corey LaJoie finished 21st in a substitute role for Chase Elliott, who was serving a one-race suspension for wrecking Hamlin in Monday‘s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Subbing for LaJoie in his usual ride — the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet — Carson Hocevar started 26th and gained 10 spots with an impressive drive through the field before a brake rotor failure on Lap 90 knocked him out of the race.
Hocevar was running 16th and chasing Austin Dillon for position when the right front rotor broke into pieces. The No. 7 Camaro made jarring contact with the Turn 1 wall to cause the fourth caution of the race, which was delayed for two hours with just seven laps complete because of lightning in the area.
“I thought it was great,” said Hocevar, who was racing a Cup car for the first time. “I had a blast. Just so thankful for the opportunity. I don‘t have a job for next year. I know Al Niece and Cody Efaw want me to run for them (in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series), and I will forever run a race or however many.
“But man, I‘m just so thankful that (Spire) gave me the opportunity — the opportunity to drive an Xfinity car (on Monday at Charlotte) and now driving a Cup car. I was running 16th … just so surreal for the first time ever. I thought we were going to have a good day and be in a good spot for the No. 7 Chevy team. Hopefully, that call for a Cup ride isn‘t the only one I get in my life.”
Overheating brake rotors weren‘t an issue confined to Hocevar‘s car. Tyler Reddick slammed the outside wall after his right front rotor exploded on Lap 175. On Lap 198, the same fate befell Noah Gragson, who took the hardest hit of all when his No. 42 Chevy slid up the track into the fence in Turn 1.
Bubba Wallace had the same issue with five laps left in regulation and his contact with the Turn 1 wall set up the final two-lap run to the finish in overtime.
Hamlin felt the lightning delay played against him and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team.
“Yeah, I thought we were super dialed in if it was 95 degrees like it was supposed to be, (but) with those delays, it kind of took away from the advantage I thought that we had,” Hamlin said.
“I‘m proud of this whole Sport Clips Toyota team — pit crew did a phenomenal job keeping us in it and doing really good on the money stop with about 60 to go. We are going to have to wait (for) another (race) to get that 50th (win).”
The Cup Series will next take on Sonoma Raceway in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on June 11 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).