Sunday's motors: Busch celebrates birthday with win at Kansas Speedway

By Dave Skretta
Associated Press

Kansas City, Kan. — Kyle Busch celebrated his 36th birthday Sunday by winning a two-lap sprint to the finish at Kansas Speedway, becoming the 10th different winner through the first 11 races of the NASCAR Cup Series season.

A limited amount of fans watch the start of a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., Sunday, May 2, 2021.

Busch had stalked Kyle Larson all day before beating him on a late restart to take the lead. Then, after another caution in the closing laps, Busch followed up his Truck Series win Saturday night with another trip to victory lane.

“That's a Kyle Busch win right there,” he said.

Kevin Harvick overcame a tire mishap on a late pit stop and took advantage of some chaos on the final restart to finish second. Brad Keselowski dominated the early laps before following his win at Talladega last weekend by finishing third, and Matt DiBenedetto and Chase Elliott rounded out the top five.

Kyle Larson led a race-high 132 laps before his day ended in 19th place — and bitter disappointment.

Even after he was beaten by Busch on that late restart, he had another chance when Christopher Bell got sideways in Turn 4 to bring out another caution. But on the restart with two laps to go, Larson got trapped behind Ryan Blaney and wound up getting him sideways while trying to give him a push, taking both of them out of contention.

It was nearly a perfect afternoon for Larson's team owner, Rick Hendrick, whose late son Ricky won his only career Truck Series race at Kansas in 2001. Just as he did at Las Vegas, Larson was driving the red, white and blue paint scheme that was nearly identical to the one that Hendrick drove 20 years ago.

Ricky Hendrick died along with nine others in a plane crash on Oct. 24, 2004, near Martinsville, Virginia.

Denny Hamlin, who also was searching for his first win, also had a frustrating finish. He had taken the lead on a restart with 32 to go before Larson applied pressure from behind, and Hamlin wound up slapping the wall to bring out a caution.

O'Ward gets 1st IndyCar win at Texas after big 1st-lap crash

Fort Worth, Texas — Pato O'Ward felt calm while he enjoyed the ride in the closing laps in Texas, getting his first IndyCar Series victory at the track closest to the Mexican-born driver's hometown.

“It’s really cool to do it in a place that’s very close to my heart, is very close to home,” said O'Ward, whose win came four days before his 22nd birthday. “It’s a great place to do it. A lot of my family was here, so it’s really cool to share this moment with them.”

O'Ward passed Josef Newgarden with 23 laps to go Sunday and stayed in front the rest of the way in the No. 5 for Arrow McLaren SP. The organization will now follow through with a promise to let O'Ward test a Formula One car at the end of this year.

The race was the second in as many days at Texas, and was marred by the IndyCar's second first-lap crash of the season.

Six cars were done before they reached the green flag, when Pietro Fittipaldi hit Sebastien Bourdais from behind, knocking the four-time open-wheel champion into Alexander Rossi. The cars of Ed Jones, Dalton Kellett and Conor Daly also were destroyed in the crash that happened as they approached the start-finish line for first time.

Daly, who was starting at the back of the 24-car field, got knocked upside down after he got caught between two other cars. He skidded along the front stretch before the car planted into the rain-saturated infield grass and flipped back onto its wheels.

The aeroscreen on Daly’s car protected him while the car was upside down. The aeroscreen likely saved Ryan Hunter-Reay’s life in the season opener at Barber when it deflected a tire away from his helmet in another first-lap crash.

“I’m good, I’m all right,” Daly said afterward.

Newgarden, who started sixth, said he noticed a “a small checkup” somewhere in front of him.

“The smallest checkup can turn into a really big effect down the line. And I think that’s what happened today,” Newgarden said. “I was able to kind of adjust, but I think they probably overreacted in the back. It’s unfortunate. ... It can get really tricky at the back.”

The two-day show in Texas concluded an exhausting stretch of four races over three weekends to open the season before going to Indianapolis for the rest of May. The road course race there is May 15, with the Indianapolis 500 on May 30.

Newgarden finished 1.2443 seconds behind O'Ward, giving Chevrolet a 1-2 finish and its first victory this season. It was the first IndyCar win for Chevy by a non-Team Penske driver since 2016.

Graham Rahal was third, in front of Scott Dixon and Colton Herta.

Dixon led 163 of 248 laps Sunday at the 1 1/2-mile oval after being in front for 206 of 212 laps Saturday night in a 1-2 finish of New Zealanders, with rookie Scott McLaughlin second. Dixon's fifth win at Texas was No. 51 for his career overall, moving within one of Mario Andretti for the second-most behind A.J. Foyt's 67.

O'Ward, who grew up at times in San Antonio, Texas, won in his 26th IndyCar start and second full season.

McLaren told him at the start of the season that he could test the F1 car this year if he won in IndyCar. Moments after the win, Zak Brown, head of McLaren’s F1 team, tweeted “A deal’s a deal ⁦‪@PatricioOWard‬⁩ - what a win! See you in Abu Dhabi later this year!”

O'Ward made a strong push on the final restart with 30 laps to go, trailing Newgarden for several laps before going around him in Turn 3.

“I feel like we truly earned our win today. I knew we had a very, very, very quick car. It’s just very, very tough to pass. And then everybody kind of got boxed into the same strategy,” said O'Ward, adding that he never felt in a defensive mode.

Daly said he wasn't really sure what happened at the start of the race, and that everyone had started to accelerate before the accordion effect created chaos.

“It just takes one person when everybody is nose to tail,” he said.

Fittipaldi, who at Texas ran his first IndyCar races since 2018, said the field suddenly showed down ahead of him and, “I had nowhere to go.”

“Watching that, I’m glad Conor is OK, glad everybody is OK,” Rossi said when viewing a replay.

Rossi was critical of IndyCar setting the start by points rather than qualifying on speed, particularly with the early Sunday evening start and teams sitting idle most of the day. It put cars of varying speeds throughout the field, a factor in the crash as the cars tried to get up to speed heading to the green flag.

Tony Kanaan was able to keep racing despite some hard contact. James Hinchcliffe had issues after driving through the fray, and completed only 30 laps between several extended stops before parking the car for good.

Foyt's team had worked late into the night to rebuild the No. 14 Chevrolet for Bourdais after he was hit from behind by Newgarden only 56 laps into Saturday's race. Bourdais was running sixth then when he spun and the car backed hard into the outside wall. Both Foyt cars (the other being Kellett) were in the opening crash Sunday.

“It's a real shame that two days in a row we get drilled and taken out of the race,” Bourdais said. “A very expensive couple of days for A.J. Foyt Racing. ... The guys worked until midnight to fix the car, and can't even take the green flag."