Kyle Busch drove it like he stole it over the final 13 laps at Auto Club Speedway, because that's exactly what happened in Saturday's Royal Purple 300 Nationwide Series race. Thanks to a two-tire call with 13 laps left, Busch exited the pits with a five-second lead over runner-up Carl Edwards and won a race in a No. 18 Toyota that was, at best, a third-place car.
Busch's victory kept a litany of streaks intact. Busch won his third straight event in NASCAR's top two national series, his third straight Nationwide Series race at Auto Club Speedway and the seventh straight Nationwide race at the 2-mile track for Joe Gibbs Racing, dating to Tony Stewart's victory in 2008. The win, Busch's fourth in the past five races at Fontana, gave him 46 career wins in the series, three short of the series record of Mark Martin, who finished eighth Saturday.
"I think it's pretty satisfying when you can win one like that," Busch said. "I mean, it's great to go out there and kick everybody's butt and win the race and just come to the media center and go home. But today, it's a little bit more fun.
"I don't know why, but it's like you're working your butt off all day long, and it's like ‘Aw, man, it's going to be a third today. That kind of stings, but it's still decent.' And then you end up making a pit call like that, where nobody else does it, and you're like, ‘Damn, we're going to win this thing,' and you get all jacked up."
Busch took the lead during an exchange of late-race pit stops and expanded it with the two-tire call on lap 137 of 150. When Busch exited the pits with new right-side tires, he had the five-second lead over Edwards.
Though Edwards and third-place Kevin Harvick closed fast on four new tires during the final 12 laps, they ran out of time. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran fourth and took the lead in the series standings by six points over Jason Leffler (11th Saturday). Elliott Sadler came home fifth.
Harvick, who pitted on lap 134, said he never considered a two-tire call.
"Two tires never even crossed my mind," Harvick said. "If I had to do it again, I'd probably pit earlier and probably get on pit road a little harder. Whether it would have changed the outcome or not, I don't know. Still a good day for us."
Edwards, who came to the pits on lap 132, wondered whether someone might try two tires but not in time to do anything about it.
"I did not think of two tires until we were jacked up on the left side of the car," Edwards said. "I thought, ‘Man, this is kind of close to the end. I wonder if somebody will take two, but I didn't really think about it more than that.
"I guess it's a little bit of shame that it didn't come down to a real battle at the end, but it very well could have. A little bit of a slower stop on Kyle's car or a caution or something like that, and it was going to be an insane finish."
Harvick was first off pit road during the fifth caution – caused by Jeremy Clements' spin in Turn 2 – and took the green flag for a lap 98 restart. Stenhouse, however, surged from fourth to the top spot on lap 99.
Stenhouse, who had perhaps the best short-run car in the field, held the lead until Edwards regained it on lap 109. But Harvick began to show his strength as the green-flag run progressed, and the driver of the No. 33 Chevrolet made short work of Edwards on Lap 115 to pace the field.