LONG POND — Flunking post-qualifying inspection proved to be more of a nuisance than a penalty for Kyle Busch on Sunday.
Busch methodically worked his way through the field, took control in the third stage and outlasted Daniel Suarez in overtime to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway.
“I can’t say enough about my teammate,” Busch said of Suarez. “He was probably the second-best car, well the third-best car. (Kevin) Harvick was the best car. We were the second-best car. I think Suarez was the third-best car. He gave us a run for our money on those last couple restarts.”
His Cup Series win came a day after Busch won the Truck Series race, matching the record with the 51st truck victory of his career — driving his No. 51 Toyota.
On Sunday, Suarez, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, ended up with a career-best second place. Alex Bowman was third followed by Harvick in fourth and Erik Jones in fifth.
“I thought I was a little better than Kyle on new tires for five or seven laps or so,” said Suarez, who started on the pole after the top-two qualifiers, Harvick and Busch, and 11 others, failed inspection. “But on longer runs, he was better than me.”
Long runs helped Busch build a lead late in the race, which went four laps past its scheduled 160 because of a second late-race caution.
The caution came out with two laps remaining in regulation when Aric Almirola spun. That bunched up the field on the restart where Suarez was able to poke ahead of Busch initially. But when Jones joined the fray, Busch was able to pull away and win by 1.7 seconds.
“The last one, I spun my tires a little bit and (Suarez) got a really good run,” Busch said. “I think that gave Jones an opportunity to make it three wide going into (turn) one, and those guys got to racing and just kind of let me get away.”
Prior to Almirola bringing out the caution, the race was red flagged for a little more than 10 minutes after a violent crash by Bubba Wallace Jr. on lap 154. Wallace lost his brakes coming into Turn 1 and tried to scrub off some speed by driving through the grass but still slammed hard into the wall.
“That was a huge hit … hardest one of my career,” Wallace said. “There is no feeling like being helpless going into Turn 1 and it scared the hell out of me.”
The penalty for failing post-qualifying inspection pushed Busch from the second starting spot to 28th. Harvick went from the pole to 29th on the starting grid. Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief, said the infraction was for having an extra brake fan and took the blame, calling it an “oversight.”
“Maybe I got to read the whole rule book in my down time,” Stevens said. “Maybe on the plane ride home.”
Harvick appeared to be the driver whose penalty wouldn’t matter. He sliced through the field quickly and won the second stage at the 100-lap mark. But a tangle with Stewart-Haas teammate Almirola on pit road on lap 122 caused damage to the left rear of Harvick’s No. 4 Ford. He had to stop twice for repairs and pick his way back through the field.
“I had a really fast (car),” Harvick said. “You look at the day, we had to keep going to the back. Made a good race out of it. It’s hard to swallow having a car like that and not winning, but that’s usually how it goes when you have a car that runs that fast.”
The Cup victory was Busch’s 49th of his career, tying Tony Stewart for 13th most on the all-time list. He needs one more to tie Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson.
Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was 17th in his 600th Cup race of his career. Johnson hasn’t won in the last 44 races.
Reach John Erzar at 570-991-6394 or on Twitter @TLJohnErzar