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Kurt Busch pinched his way past Kyle Larson for the lead with eight laps to go, then drove his gaudy Jordan Brand-styled car away from the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion to win Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.
It was the second win for the up-and-coming 23XI Racing team owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, who followed the two leaders and Kyle Busch across in fourth place. Bubba Wallace won the team’s first race last year at Talladega.
Busch pulled his No. 45 car — one of the numbers that Jordan wore during his NBA career — to a stop at the start-finish line after his first win at Kansas Speedway. He climbed out the window and threw his arms up in triumph, the familiar Jumpman logo splashed across his crazy fire suit as he celebrated his first win since last year’s race at Atlanta.
One of the dominant storylines early in the week was how tires would fare under the Next Gen car during its Kansas debut, especially after several drivers — including Joey Logano — had problems with their rear going down in practice.
The problems began again during Sunday’s second stage.
William Byron, who was bumped out of the way by Logano in last week’s contentious finish at Darlington, was running near the front when his tire went away. Just as Byron limped down pit road, outside pole sitter Tyler Reddick had a rear go down and touched the wall. Martin Truex Jr. had the same tire problem on the stage’s final lap.
“Our engineers were out talking to everyone who had issues in practice,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, who had advised teams prior to the weekend to increase rear air pressures to account for the loads.
“We wanted to make sure everyone was aware of the situation.”
Erik Jones had a different tire problem entirely: His team couldn’t get a rear lug nut off. It tried all manner of saws, torches and wrenches to no avail, a tough blow for a Petty GMS Motorsports team hanging outside the playoff fringe.
Kyle Busch, who earlier this week welcomed daughter Lennix Key into the world, managed to avoid the tire trouble and hold off Ross Chastain and Chase Elliott to win the first stage Sunday. His older brother, Kurt, beat him to the line to win the second stage with Elliott again coming across in third.
Then the same tire problem caught up to Elliott, whose rear went down and sent him spinning across the track with 70 laps to go. Elliott was fortunate to keep his No. 9 out of the wall before coming to rest in the muddy infield.
That set up a sprint to the finish.
Larson kept riding the top line around the mile-and-a-half oval, often brushing the wall, while Kurt Busch was able to put his Toyota just about anywhere he wanted. That paid off when the two were running side-by-side with eight laps to go and Busch squeezed Larson, who brushed the wall and lost just enough momentum to surrender the lead — and the win.
Josh Bilicki had the colors of the Ukrainian flag on his No. 77 car for Spire Motorsports to show support of humanitarian efforts going on in the war-torn country. Several cities in Ukraine, including Kyiv and Mariupol, also were incorporated in the paint scheme along with the insignia of the Ukrainian American Coordinating Council.
The series takes a regular-season break before the Coca-Cola 600 and heads to Texas for next weekend’s All-Star race.