NASCAR Cup Series
Kyle Busch looks like championship contender after win at Fontana
NASCAR Cup Series

Kyle Busch looks like championship contender after win at Fontana

Updated Feb. 27, 2023 5:19 p.m. ET

FONTANA, Calif. — Kyle Busch got out of his Richard Childress Racing car, took his traditional bow to celebrate a victory and looked toward the future.

"I'm going to enjoy it for sure," Busch said. "And hopefully there's many more left to go."

Just how many?

Busch knows how to pile on the wins. He won eight races in 2008 and 2018. He won five races in 2015, 2017 and 2019. 


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The way he has driven in his first month at RCR, this season's total could be closer to eight than it is to five.

Yeah, accuse me of jumping on the Kyle Busch bandwagon. But consider what Busch has done in just a few weeks:

  • He came from the rear after a tangle with Joey Logano and finished third at the exhibition Clash.
  • He was leading his Daytona 500 qualifying race when he was punted by Daniel Suárez.
  • He was leading the Daytona 500 after 200 laps before things went south in overtime.
  • He won Sunday at Auto Club Speedway.

Kyle Busch wins Pala Casino 400 at Fontana

Kyle Busch became the first driver to win a Cup Series race in 19 consecutive seasons after he took the Pala Casino 400 at Fontana. It was his fifth career Fontana win. 

For a driver who had won 60 Cup races prior to Sunday, that shouldn't be too surprising. But he had won just four races in the previous three years. His average finish of 16.7 last year was among the worst of his career.

As he struggled, his relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing soured as he couldn't come to terms with the organization, which also was trying to find sponsorship for his car as M&M's was leaving.

They reached a stalemate and JGR had Ty Gibbs ready to go Cup racing, and Busch suddenly last summer had to find a new home for 2023. He landed at RCR, replacing Tyler Reddick, who won three races last year. RCR has not won a Cup title since 1994.

Yes, it's early, but Busch looks like a legitimate championship contender. 

His competition isn't surprised.

"Why is anyone surprised by this?" Chase Elliott said after finishing second to Busch. "That's mind-boggling to me that anyone is surprised. Kyle is fantastic, one of the best race car drivers to ever do this.

"That didn't change overnight. So I'm not surprised. And anybody who is should rethink their NASCAR knowledge."

Chase Elliott on Kyle Busch

Chase Elliott on Kyle Busch challenging for the wins at the Clash, Daytona and then getting a victory at Fontana: "I’m not surprised, and anybody who is should rethink their NASCAR knowledge."

Busch had trouble pinpointing why he struggled last year. And he isn't sure he can pinpoint what is working early with his new team on the No. 8 car.

"You look at how the 8 car [with Reddick] ran here last year, and they were fast," Busch said. "They had a really, really fast car, and I did the sim session stuff with them and worked on what they had here last year and then kind of changed a couple things to what I felt like I could do or race better, be more comfortable racing for myself.

"It was just a completely different feeling of a race car than what I had here last year."

While he had hoped for success at RCR, Busch said he wouldn't have predicted to have run so well so early.

"I felt like there was going to be a little bit of a learning experience, a little bit of a growth pattern," he said. "But also on the flip side of that, I always just kind of looked back and watched some of their results and success that they had last year with Austin.

"It's just been really, really cool."

Kyle Busch on his first win with RCR

After securing the Pala Casino 400 win, Kyle Busch said it was one of the most rewarding victories in his career.

Dillon, who finished in the top-10 Sunday, also has appeared to have upped his game. The grandson of Childress, Dillon was the one at RCR who lobbied for the team to make a run at Busch and was the one who called Busch to gauge his interest in RCR last year.

"I'm glad Kyle's over here," Dillon said. "It's just a great fit. Me and Kyle really do like hanging around each other and talking race cars.

"RCR is home for him now."

Busch didn't just win Sunday, he won despite having a speeding penalty and having to drive from the back of the field.

Ross Chastain tried to hold Busch off for the lead but indicated it was a futile attempt.

"He's better than me all the time," Chastain said after a third-place finish. "When he caught up to us, I was really loose. ... He got a lot better over the last half of the race."

Daniel Suárez, Chastain's teammate who finished fourth as part of a 1-2-3-4 Chevrolet finish, once was a teammate of Busch's. He has seen this before.

"Kyle is a great driver," Suarez said. "Right now at Chevrolet, we have amazing race cars and the 8 team last year was one of the best teams.

"So I'm not surprised. ... We're going to have to get to work to beat them."

That No. 8 team stayed intact and hasn't seemed to miss a beat. Busch is known for his fiery personality. As long as things are going well, this could be a wonderful time for the squad.

"I hope to be in here a lot more," said crew chief Randall Burnett at the winner's news conference. "He's a pretty incredible talent. Everybody knows that. I'm blessed to be working with that kind of talent."

That talent, Burnett said, extends beyond the person holding the steering wheel.

"We've got a great group on the 8 crew," Burnett said. "The guys work their guts out.

"We have a lot of talent on that team and to mix Kyle with that, and he gets along with the guys. ... We've been in every race so far, and hopefully we don't see an end to that anytime soon."

Dillon wouldn't mind that except he wants to win some himself when he looks at how many wins Busch could record this season.

"It could be big," Dillon said. "I just hope he gives me one or two, I'll be happy."

How many races will Kyle Busch win in 2023?

In this week's edition of Fast Thoughts, Bob Pockrass discusses Kyle Busch's win at Fontana and how many races he can win with Richard Childress Racing this season.

Thinking Out Loud

Joey Logano said the accident on the restart where several drivers got piled up as part of an accordion effect was part of the increase in size of the restart zone. 

NASCAR has increased the size of the restart zone by 50% this year. The leader must mash the gas somewhere in the restart zone to restart the race or the flagman will restart the race if the leader gets to the end of the zone without hitting the gas.

The leader has the advantage as the "control car" for the restart, and Logano said he waited deep in the zone because other drivers were trying to lay back to get runs on him.

NASCAR warns drivers but typically doesn't penalize them for laying back — they are supposed to stay closed up behind the car in front of them. How drivers react to what happened Sunday could be interesting: Will they be more apt to remain closed up or will they still lay back?

In The News

-- NASCAR has opted to sell 433 of the 522 acres that surrounds the track of Auto Club Speedway to a real estate company that would then sell the property for e-commerce warehouses, according to public documents. NASCAR is retaining about 90 acres and still plans to reconfigure the 2-mile oval track to a half-mile track like Martinsville but with a little more banking, keeping the existing frontstretch and grandstands. Using the tax figures on the deed filed, it appears the property sold for $544 million.

-- NASCAR is expected to decide in the coming days whether it will implement the short-track package that drivers liked in the test at Phoenix last month. Teams are expecting the change from the 4-inch spoiler to the 2-inch spoiler along with some rear diffuser panels removed and other downforce changes underneath the car. Teams would get a 50-minute practice Friday at Phoenix in a couple of weeks to get adjusted to the change, which would be used at all short tracks and road courses except Bristol and Dover.

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Stat of the Day

Kyle Busch has now won at least five Cup races at three different tracks: He has won eight at Bristol (on the concrete track, nine when including Bristol dirt, which is considered a separate "track" in most statistical breakdowns), six at Richmond and five at Fontana. He also extended his streak of seasons with a win to 19, breaking the record of 18 set by Richard Petty.

They Said It

"There's not very many records that you can beat that Richard Petty has, and certainly that was one that I set early on a long, long time ago that I always wanted to achieve and get." — Kyle Busch

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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