It was the Hollywood ending everyone on the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team had envisioned.
Kurt Busch had dominated the entire weekend at Auto Club Speedway, leading each of the practice sessions and capturing the pole in just his second race of the 2015 season. In one of the fastest cars throughout Sunday’s Auto Club 400, Busch was leading coming to the scheduled last lap.
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However, with the white flag in the air and Busch out front, the Hollywood ending took a major plot twist when NASCAR threw a caution for debris, setting up a green-white-checkered restart. Under the caution, the leaders came to pit road one final time before returning to the track for a mad dash to the finish.
Busch was able to make quick work of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle — all of whom stayed out when the leaders hit pit road — to retake the lead on the first GWC attempt, but another caution was thrown for debris from Kyle Larson’s car.
On the final GWC restart, Busch was again able to grab the lead on the initial drop of the green flag, but Brad Keselowski used four fresh tires to maneuver past Busch in turns 1 and 2 on the white-flag lap, and score the win.
Driving hard into the final corner trying to catch Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford, Busch’s car slid up into the outside wall, which allowed his teammate, Kevin Harvick, to slip by for second.
"We had a great Haas Automation Chevy all day," said Busch. "It was fantastic to drive. The way everybody chipped in on building the car, the pit sequence, we just got hung out on the yellows at the end. When do you pit to put four tires on? When do you pit to put two tires on?"
Despite the difference in tire strategies, Busch took responsibility for losing the top spot to Keselowski on the final restart.
"That last restart, I just didn’t get the job done," he said. "Brad outmuscled us with four tires."
In just his second race back in the No. 41 Chevrolet since his NASCAR suspension was lifted, Busch scored his second top-five finish, bumping him up to 28th in driver points.
After missing the first three races of the season while on indefinite suspension for an alleged act of domestic violence that he vehemently denies, Busch was reinstated by NASCAR and declared Chase-eligible before last weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway where he finished fifth.