By GREG BEACHAM AP Sports Writer
FONTANA, Calif. (AP) — Kyle Busch tied Richard Petty’s NASCAR record with his 200th career victory across the three national series Sunday by using an impressive late surge through the field following a speeding penalty to win the Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway.
Busch dominated the first two stages, but a pit-road speeding penalty dropped him to 18th with 73 laps to go. He carved through the field in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota then got help from a timely caution. Busch catapulted into the lead for good with 26 laps left by drafting off Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.
The win was the third Cup victory at Fontana for Busch and he’s now in position to become NASCAR’s overall career victories leader with his next win. Busch has earned 53 of his 200 wins in the Cup Series, along with 53 in the Truck Series and 94 in Xfinity.
Busch reached the brink of the record by sweeping last weekend’s two races at Phoenix, but missed his first chance to tie Petty in the Fontana Xfinity Series race Saturday when a disastrous late pit stop prevented him from catching winner Cole Custer.
Busch was exhilarated immediately after his win.
“All I do is win, win, win, no matter what,” he said over the radio. “Can you imagine if I could have got Vegas and Xfinity yesterday? How many in a row? How many?”
His team handed him a white flag with a logo emblazoned with “200 WINS,” and he stood atop his car and waved it toward his large Southern California fan base before taking his customary bow.
“Feels just like No. 1,” he said. “Feels just like yesterday. That was such an awesome race car. Dang. I’m glad we put on a heck of a show for these fans. To win 200, whatever it means, it means a lot to me.”
“I just wish that we could keep it going, running strong, running well, and winning races.”
Logano was second and Keselowski third, unable to catch the winningest driver of his era as Busch became the first repeat winner this NASCAR season.
Busch equaled Petty’s victories mark in the 998th race of his 17-year career. Petty competed in 1,184 NASCAR races over 35 years.
With career totals bolstered by years of dominance in the Xfinity and Trucks series — he is the winningest driver in both series’ history — the 33-year-old Busch moved into a tie with the 81-year-old Petty, who believes Busch would be competitive with the best drivers of Petty’s era or any era.
Everything was set up for Busch to cash in a relatively easy victory at Fontana, and the relentless competitor known as Rowdy didn’t waste the chance despite a hefty piece of bad luck.
A pit road speeding penalty ruined a likely win for Busch two weeks ago in Las Vegas, but he had plenty of time to make up for his mistake at Fontana.
Detractors point to Busch’s many advantages in the Xfinity and Trucks series while observing that Petty’s 200 wins all came in NASCAR’s top series, compared to just 53 for Busch.
Busch’s defenders note his impressive win percentages and the fundamentally different nature of NASCAR competition these days, when a larger field of elite drivers competes in every race as opposed to the fields of varying depth and quality faced by Petty.
No matter who wins the barstool debate, Busch claims he doesn’t think much about his place in history in terms of numbers. He expected to have a small celebration before turning his focus to Martinsville next week and the yearlong chase of his second career Cup Series championship.
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