Kurt Busch pinned Kyle Larson to the lead with just eight laps, then drove his vivid Jordan Brand-styled car from the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion to win Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway.
It was the second win for the upcoming 23XI Racing team owned by Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin, who followed the two leaders and Kyle Busch in fourth place. Bubba Wallace won the team’s first race last year in Talladega.
Busch pulled out his No. 45 cars-one of the numbers Jordan wore in his NBA career-to stop at the start-finish line after his first win at Kansas Speedway. He climbed out the window and raised his arms in triumph, the familiar Jumpman logo spewing out of his crazy fire suit as he celebrated his first victory since racing last year in Atlanta.
One of the dominant story lines earlier in the week was how the tires under the Next Gen car during its debut in Kansas, especially after several drivers – including Joey Logano – had of problems with their backs decreasing in training.
Problems started again in the second half of Sunday.
William Byron, who was hit by Logano in the controversial finish last week in Darlington, was running near the front when he lost his tire. While Byron was paving the pit road, outside pole-sitter Tyler Reddick fell off the rear wheel and hit the wall. Martin Truex Jr. had the same tire problem on the last lap of the stage.
“Our engineers are talking to everyone with training issues,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s career director, who advised teams before the weekend to increase rear air pressures to consider loads.
“We want to make sure everyone knows the situation.”
Erik Jones had another tire problem: His team couldn’t remove the rear lug nut. It tried all sorts of jigsaws, torches and wrenches without success, a severe blow for a Petty GMS Motorsports team hanging out of the playoff fringe.
Kyle Busch, who last week accepted son Lennix Key into the world, was able to avoid a tire problem and prevented Ross Chastain and Chase Elliott from winning the first round on Sunday. His older brother, Kurt, beat him all the way to the line to win the second period where Elliott was again third.
Then the same tire problem caught up with Elliott, whose rear tire fell and spun him on the track with 70 laps left. Elliott was lucky to keep his No. 9 on the wall before resting on the muddy infield.
That set up the sprint until the finish.
Larson continued to ride the top line around the mile-and-a-half oval, often brushing against the wall, while Kurt Busch placed his Toyota wherever he wanted. That resulted when the two ran side by side with eight laps left and Busch squeezed Larson, who hit the wall and lost enough momentum to give up the lead – and the win.