Kurt Busch delivers 23XI Racing a Cup win at Kansas

0 Comments

With team co-owner Michael Jordan’s brand on the No. 45 Toyota, Kurt Busch led a race-high 116 laps Sunday and scored the victory at Kansas Speedway.

Busch chased down Kyle Larson for the lead and retook the lead with eight laps to go. The two fought hard and Larson’s car was pinched into the wall in Turns 1 and 2. Busch escaped for his first win with 23XI Racing and first Kansas win in 33 career starts while Larson finished second.

Busch, who is driving for the seventh different organization in his 23-year career, was elated exiting his car as he soaked in his 34th career win.

MORE: Kansas Cup results, driver points

MORE: What drivers said

“It’s the most gratifying to work from the ground up with a brand new car number,” Busch told Fox Sports. “Yes, I have been with a lot of teams, a lot of manufacturers. Now, this is the check off the Toyota box, but it’s about family.

“I love my family at home. I love my KBI employees and everybody at 23XI. This is for us. This is what the hard work is all about no matter if you lose a couple of spots on pit road, no matter if our car was a basket of whatever to start. I’m going to go find Toto. I’m in Kansas. I’m loving it.”

23XI Racing co-owner Denny Hamlin finished fourth, his first top-10 finish since winning at Richmond in April and just his second of the season. Hamlin, who saw his other driver Bubba Wallace win at Talladega in October 2021, was overwhelmed with emotion as he congratulated his newest driver on pit road.

“Just can’t thank Kurt enough,” Hamlin said. “Jordan Brand’s first race. So jealous he gets to drive that car and then to have that thing so fast there. I have never had, certainly, this kind of feeling even for a win for me much less when I did win, so it’s just different.”

The car was designed to replicate a “Black Cement” Air Jordan-3 shoe. That was fresh on Busch’s mind after the race.

“I felt like I had to play like the GOAT, race like the GOAT,” Busch said.

In second place, Larson was unfazed by the late-race wall contact and believed Busch raced him fair.

“We were racing for the win there,” Larson said. “Yeah, he never got into me, so I’m trying to squeeze throttle to get position on him and just got tight, so that was fun racing with Kurt the last half of the race.”

The strong performances of Busch and Hamlin highlighted a stellar day for Toyota, which saw all six of its cars finish inside the top 10. While Busch went to victory lane, his younger brother Kyle Busch finished third, Hamlin fourth, Christopher Bell fifth, Martin Truex Jr. sixth and Wallace 10th. Completing the top 10 were Ross Chastain in seventh, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in eighth and Alex Bowman in ninth.

The race featured eight cautions, five of which were for on-track incidents as left-rear tires continued to plague drivers after issues persisted in Saturday’s practice session.

BJ McLeod was the first driver to face a tire issue Sunday when he brought out the caution with a spin at Lap 35, the result of a flat left-rear tire. At Lap 62, Daniel Suarez suffered the same fate while running fourth, damaging the front of his No. 99 Chevrolet and losing numerous laps while safety crews worked to tow him back to pit road.

Under that caution, Bell had a flat tire while leading the race. Chase Elliott later spun at Lap 197 from another tire issue.

The final yellow flag flew at Lap 230 for fluid on the track following a slide by Kevin Harvick, his second of the day. That set up the 33-lap dash to the finish.

There were no issues in post-race technical inspection, confirming Busch as the winner. Six cars will be taken back to the wind tunnel and then the NASCAR R&D Center, two from each manufacturer: the Nos. 11 and 23 Toyotas of Hamlin and Wallace; the Nos. 47 and 48 Chevrolets of Stenhouse and Bowman; and the Nos. 6 and 12 Ford of Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney.

Stage 1 winner: Kyle Busch

Stage 2 winner: Kurt Busch

Who had a good race: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earned his third straight top-10 finish of the year, already besting his top-10 total from 2021 (two). Stenhouse cut a left-rear tire in practice Saturday and hit the wall with the right-rear corner of the car. JTG Daugherty Racing elected to repair it instead of going to a backup car. The decision paid off with an eighth-place finish. … In 11th place, Daytona 500 champion and rookie Austin Cindric was the highest finishing Ford driver. It’s his best finish since also coming home 11th at Martinsville in April.

Who had a bad race: Tyler Reddick had a miserable day after multiple vibrations and brushes with the wall. He finished 30th, four laps down. … Daniel Suarez and Chase Elliott were both vocal on their radios in their frustrations with safety crews. Both drivers wanted to be pushed rather than towed. Both cars lost considerable time. Elliott finished 29th, three laps down. Suarez finished 33rd, 11 laps down. … Erik Jones‘ right-rear tire was bolted on too tightly and the No. 43 team spent over 10 minutes trying to detach the lug nut. Eventually, the crew elected to saw the wheel off all together. Jones finished 32nd, six laps down.

Notable: The last time Toyota placed six cars inside the top 10 was at Watkins Glen in 2017. The last time the manufacturer saw four cars inside the top five was at Sonoma in 2019.

Next race: The series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the NASCAR All-Star Race on May 22 (8 p.m. ET, FS1).