Sunday's motors: Kyle Busch completes weekend sweep in Arizona desert

Associated Press
Associated Press
Kyle Busch sprays champagne in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at ISM Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.

Avondale, Ariz. — Kyle Busch made it a weekend sweep at ISM Raceway in the Arizona desert.

Just like he nearly did last week at Las Vegas.

Busch tracked down Ryan Blaney over a long green-flag run before passing his Team Penske rival for the lead with 16 laps to go, then made his fuel and tires last to the checkered flag to add a victory in the NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday to his triumph in the Xfinity Series race.

“We were going to be right on the verge,” Busch said. “You have to go hard first and worry about fuel afterwards. After I got Blaney, I was able to save a little bit and take care of my tires for the rest of the lapped traffic I had to get through.”

Busch’s latest big weekend gives him 199 wins in NASCAR’s top three series, including 52 at the Cup level. He will go for the 200 milestone next weekend at Auto Club Speedway in California.

“It’s not for me to worry about. It’s for everybody else to discuss and talk about and debate over,” he said of its importance. “But for myself and the view I’ve had, I’ve been fortunate to be around a lot of great people and a lot of great sponsors.”

Busch also won the Xfinity race last weekend at Las Vegas, and he would have hit the 200-mark on Sunday if not for a speeding penalty in the Cup Series race that left him with a third-place finish.

Even after victory outside Phoenix, Busch was still ruing what might have been.

“This makes last weekend feel so much stupider,” he said. “I wish we would have swept last weekend, too, with two weekend sweeps in a row. But we’ll take what we got today.”

Martin Truex Jr. also got around Blaney to finish second, taking advantage of a No. 19 car that kept getting better on longer runs. Blaney wound up third after starting on the pole, and after having to make two stops during the final caution because of a lugnut that would have come loose.

“I was kind of riding, trying to save tires, trying to save gas,” said Blaney, who opted for two tires and track position on his final stop. “I think (Busch) was kind of riding back there, too. He knew what situation I was in. I started to get real tight and we got to lapped cars and I was done.”

Still, it was a momentum building result for Blaney, who had watched Team Penske teammates Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski reach victory lane the past two weeks. Blaney had been outside the top 20 in each of his first three races this season.

“It definitely was a good weekend after the start of the year we had,” Blaney said. “A good day, the day we needed. We’ve been poised to have days like this and contend for wins and it just hasn’t happened this year. This is what we deserve.”

Aric Almirola was fourth and Denny Hamlin was fifth, his car also performing better on long green-flag runs. Kyle Larsen drove to sixth from the back of the field after failing to get his money lap in during qualifying before time expired, while Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson also had strong runs.

“If you can’t win, it’s just about maximizing your day,” Almirola said, “and we were really close on fuel. I didn’t want to run out and finish 20th. I wanted to salvage a top-5 out of the day.”

The way Busch has been going lately, it seems as if nobody else can win.

“I’m always leery about all-time when you talk in pro sports,” team owner Joe Gibbs said, “because there’s been so many great ones. … Kyle has the determination and drive that is very unusual.”


Team Penske’s hot start to the motorsports season continued Sunday with a Josef Newgarden victory in the IndyCar season opener — the fourth win for a Penske car in seven days spanning three different series.

Newgarden crossed the finish line on the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, Florida, at almost the exact same time Ryan Blaney, another Penske driver, led the field to green in the NASCAR race at Phoenix. Team Penske won consecutive NASCAR races, two Supercars races in Australia and now a showcase on the IndyCar schedule.

The organization is off to such a strong start that Penske acknowledged his three-driver IndyCar lineup arrived at the opening race feeling pressure to match their counterparts.

Will Power and Newgarden delivered in qualifying by sweeping the front row, then Newgarden used tire strategy to put his Chevrolet out front.

“So proud of our group, we have the best of the best working for Team Penske,” Newgarden said. “There’s a lot of pressure at Team Penske, everybody is rising up, and we joined the group today.”

It was the 204th victory in IndyCar for a Penske driver.

Scott Dixon finished second in a Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing but was stymied by lapped traffic in his bid to catch Newgarden.

“You know the lapped traffic is trying to stay on the lead lap,” Dixon said. “I thought we had a run on Josef, but once we caught the traffic it wasn’t enough.”

Power finished third.

Felix Rosenqvist was the breakout star of the race by finishing fourth in his IndyCar debut. The Ganassi rookie from Sweden led 31 laps and used a strong pass on Power on a restart to move to the front. He was taken out of contention for the victory during pit stops and just missed a podium finish in his debut.

“We are starting off the season better off than anyone could have expected,” said Rosenqvist, winner of three Indy Lights races in 2016.

The race finished with Penske and Ganassi, the two top teams in IndyCar, on top of the standings and the final scoring tower. Alexander Rossi was fifth for Andretti Autosport, James Hinchcliffe finished sixth for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Simon Pagenaud, the third driver in the Penske lineup, was seventh.

Colton Herta finished eighth as the 18-year-old debuted for Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

The race was slowed by only two cautions, the fewest in the 16-year history of the race.