In a similar scenario to the Bristol Motor Speedway Dirt Course a year ago, Kyle Busch found himself situated at the right place to strike at the right time as he dodged a final lap carnage involving race leaders Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney to net a big victory in the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, April 23, amid two overtime attempts.
The two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion from Las Vegas, Nevada, led three of 196 over-scheduled laps as he placed himself in contention to win while starting on the front row during the second of two overtime attempts. Despite being overtaken by Wallace and a hard-charging Blaney on the frontstretch and as the final lap started, the seas parted ways for Busch as Wallace, who went from the bottom to the top lane to block Blaney, got bumped and turned sideways in front of Blaney on the outside lane.
The result triggered a multi-car pileup between Turns 1 and 2 as Busch dodged the carnage to reassume the lead before the caution flag waved to officially conclude the event on the final lap. Amid fuel concerns, Busch had enough fuel to coast his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 across the finish line first and claim his second checkered flag of the 2023 season and his first at Talladega in 15 years.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Denny Hamlin started in pole position for the first time in 2023 after posting a pole-winning lap at 180.751 mph in 52.979 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Aric Almirola, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 180.642 mph in 53.011 seconds.
Prior to the event, Austin Cindric, AJ Allmendinger and Todd Gilliland dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective entries.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Hamlin and Almirola dueled for the lead amid two tight-packed lanes entering the first turn until Almirola received a strong push from teammate Chase Briscoe to launch ahead and assume control of both lanes through the backstretch. With the field fanning out to two tight-packed lanes, Almirola proceeded to lead the first lap ahead of Briscoe, Christopher Bell, Joey Logano, Hamlin and Chris Buescher.
Then prior to the second lap and as Logano challenged Almirola for the lead, the first caution flew when Michael McDowell, who was running within the top 20, spun in the middle of the pack through Turns 3 and 4 after losing a right-rear tire. Amid the spin, the field scattered to avoid hitting McDowell as he pitted his No. 34 Love’s Travel Stop Ford Mustang for repairs.
During the first caution period, a host of names that included Ross Chastain, Erik Jones, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Justin Haley, Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Riley Herbst, Corey LaJoie, JJ Yeley, Ryan Preece, Austin Cindric, Todd Gilliland, Zane Smith, BJ McLeod and Austin Hill pitted while the rest led by Almirola remained on the track.
When the event restarted on the sixth lap, Almirola maintained the lead on the outside lane followed by Logano while Briscoe challenged Buescher for third. As the field returned to the frontstretch, Briscoe drew himself into a side-by-side battle with teammate Almirola for the lead as the former led a lap for himself. Then on the eighth lap, Bubba Wallace was drafted into the lead on the outside lane as he had rookie Ty Gibbs and Ryan Blaney drafting him. As Wallace fought for the lead on the outside lead, Briscoe also fought back on the inside lane with drafting help from teammate Almirola and Logano.
At the Lap 10 mark, Wallace was leading ahead of Gibbs, Briscoe, Blaney and Almirola as the field battled amid two tight-packed lanes. Despite being pressured by Briscoe on the inside lane, Wallace maintained the lead on the outside lane through the Lap 20 mark.
By Lap 25, Wallace continued to lead as Blaney moved up to second. Martin Truex Jr. also moved up to third followed by Gibbs and Daniel Suarez while Briscoe fell back to sixth ahead of Kyle Busch, Almirola, Harrison Burton and Ross Chastain. By then, all but one of 38 starters were separated within two seconds amid a tight pack and two lanes.
Then as the first wave of green flag pit stops commenced approaching Lap 35 with Wallace leading his Toyota teammates to pit road, early trouble struck for teammate Tyler Reddick, who made a late dart to the left and locked up his front tires while trying to slow his car prior to entering pit road. After getting loose, Reddick then spun and hit the inside wall as he was dodged by Wallace and all four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota competitors. Despite the incident, the race proceeded under green as Reddick navigated his No. 45 MoneyLion Toyota TRD Camry back to pit road for repairs.
On Lap 39, another wave of competitors, mainly Chevrolet competitors, led by Chastain, who passed Kyle Busch for the lead on Lap 36, pitted as Preece cycled to the lead. Then as another wave of competitors, mainly Ford competitors, led by Preece pitted by Lap 41, trouble struck for Briscoe, who spun after locking up his tires and trying to slow his No. 14 Mahindra Tractors YOG Ford Mustang while trying to enter pit road.
While the rest of his Ford competitors proceeded to pit, Briscoe’s event then went from bad to worse when he flattened his tires and was left stranded on pit road while the rest of his fellow competitors pitted. As a result of his mishap, the caution returned on Lap 42. By then, Erik Jones was leading ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ty Dillon, Haley, Corey LaJoie and AJ Allmendinger. During the caution period, some led by Erik Jones, who had yet to pit, pitted while the rest led by Elliott remained on the track.
When the event restarted under green on Lap 47, teammates Elliott and Bowman dueled for the lead in front of the pack. They continued to duel for the lead through the backstretch and entering Turns 3 and 4 until Bowman peeked ahead in his No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and led the following lap. While Bowman had drafting help from teammate Kyle Larson, Elliott had drafting help from Chastain as both Hendrick Motorsports teammates continued to swap back and forth for the lead.
Nearing the Lap 55 mark, the battle for the lead continued to intensify as Elliott reassumed the top spot with drafting help from Chastain on the inside lane while Bowman fought back on the outside lane with drafting help from teammate Larson. As the field remained dead even in a tight pack, Almirola tried to start a third lane towards the outside lane entering the frontstretch. Kyle Busch would then move up in front of Almirola along with Blaney and Zane Smith towards the outside lane as Elliott retained the lead.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 60, Elliott, who swapped the lead with teammate Bowman since the previous restart amid the draft, claimed his first Cup stage victory of the 2023 season. Bowman, Chastain, Byron, Larson, Cindric, Gragson, Logano, Preece and Suarez were scored in the top 10. By then, the event featured 15 lead changes for 10 different leaders while 36 of 38 starters were scored on the lead lap.
Under the second stage, the field led by Elliott returned to pit road for service. Following the pit stops and amid mixed strategies, Hamlin exited first after only opting for fuel. Harvick, who pitted for two fresh tires, exited second followed by Haley, Chastain on four tires, Truex and Cindric. Amid the pit stops, Todd Gilliland was penalized for having his crew members jump over the pit wall too soon. Buescher was also penalized for running over equipment along with Herbst, who was nabbed for pitting outside his pit box. JJ Yeley was also assessed a penalty for vehicle interference.
Prior to the start of the second stage, the following names that included Buescher, Kyle Busch, Zane Smith, Erik Jones, Keselowski, Stenhouse, Austin Hill and Herbst pitted to top off on fuel.
The second stage started on Lap 67 as Hamlin and Justin Haley occupied the front row. At the start, Hamlin pulled ahead on the outside lane in his No. 11 FedEx Toyota TRD Camry through the first two turns as Haley tried to fight back on the inside lane with drafting help from Chastain. Hamlin, however, had drafting help from Harvick as he maintained the lead in front of the field battling in tight formation through two lanes.
Four laps later, Harvick, who drew himself in a side-by-side battle with Hamlin for the lead, led a lap for himself as he tried to receive drafting assistance from Truex while Hamlin moved in front of Haley on the inside lane. With Harvick in the lead, Logano then drew himself behind Harvick’s No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang in the draft while Truex drew himself in a side-by-side battle with Harvick for the lead.
At the Lap 75 mark, Harvick was leading ahead of Logano, Preece, Truex and Hamlin while Larson, Haley, Wallace, Chastain and Ty Dillon were scored in the top 10. By then, the top-36 competitors were separated by two seconds, with the first 21 separated by under a second.
Two laps later, Logano was drafted into the lead as he led a lap for himself. Another lap later, however, Truex made his move to the front after receiving a draft from teammate Hamlin and Harvick on the outside lane while Logano remained on the inside lane.
Through the first 90 scheduled laps, Truex, who had been swapping the lead with Logano since Lap 77, was out in front ahead of Logano while Hamlin, Haley and Harvick were in the top five. By then, Chastain was in sixth followed by Preece, Cindric, Wallace and Bell while Ty Dillon, Larson, Austin Dillon, Byron and LaJoie were scored in the top 15 ahead of Elliott, Almirola, Harrison Burton, Bowman and Blaney. In addition, 36 of 38 starters scored on the lead lap were separated within two seconds.
At the halfway mark on Lap 94, Truex continued to lead ahead of teammate Hamlin while Harvick, Logano, Preece, Haley, Wallace, Chastain, Ty Dillon and Cindric were battling within the top 10. By then, the top-26 competitors were separated by less than a second while a total of 36 lead lap competitors were separated by over a second and a half.
Three laps later, the field fanned out to three tight-packed lanes as Wallace mounted a charge on the outside lane with drafting help from Erik Jones. Another lap later, Wallace was drafted into the lead as he moved in front of Truex and Hamlin while Harvick and Logano occupied the top five. By Lap 100, Harvick moved back into the lead as he battled Truex to maintain the spot while Preece and Ty Dillon moved up into the top five.
Three laps later, the second wave of green flag pit stops commenced as a host of competitors, mainly Chevrolet competitors, led by Chastain pitted. Another lap later, a mix of Toyota and Chevrolet competitors led by Truex and Hamlin pitted under green for service. Another wave of competitors, mainly Ford competitors, led by Harvick would then pit under green by Lap 105, mainly for fuel. Amid the pit stops, Logano was penalized for speeding on pit road.
Nearing the Lap 106 mark, the top-four competitors led by Keselowski and followed by teammate Buescher, Yeley and Riley Herbst pitted. Once the second cycle of green flag pit stops concluded, Truex cycled his No. 19 Bas Pro Shops Toyota TRD Camry into the lead followed by Austin Dillon and Byron while Kyle Busch, Bowman and Elliott were scored in the top six. By Lap 110, however, Wallace navigated his way back into the lead over Elliott, who led the previous lap.
Then on Lap 115, the field split Logano in the middle as Logano, who was left out of the draft prior to the field catching him, was mired a lap down following his pit road penalty. As Logano received drafting help from teammate Cindric to battle Briscoe for the free pass spot, Elliott, who spent the previous several laps battling Wallace for the lead, was out in front. By then, Almirola moved up to second followed by Harvick, Burton and Preece while Wallace was left battling Truex for sixth.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 120, Almirola executed a move on Elliott with drafting help from teammate Harvick on the outside lane to claim his first Cup stage victory since 2020. Elliott settled in second followed by Harvick, Wallace and Burton while Truex, Preece, Hamlin, Stenhouse and Gragson were scored in the top 10. By then, the event featured 33 lead changes for 16 different leaders. In addition, Logano was the beneficiary of the free pass and cycled back to the lead lap after managing to remain ahead of Briscoe and BJ McLeod, both of whom were a lap down, on the track.
Under the stage break, nearly the entire field led by Almirola returned to pit road for service. Following the pit stops, Almirola exited first to retain the lead followed by Hamlin, Wallace, Elliott, Burton and Harvick.
With 62 laps remaining, the final stage started as Almirola and Wallace occupied the front row. At the start, Wallace peeked ahead with the lead on the inside lane with drafting help from Burton as he then darted up the track to block Almirola. This enabled Burton to be drafted into the lead on the inside lane followed by Gragson as Wallace battled Truex for third. Burton would then maintain the lead in front of Gragson, Wallace, Truex, Blaney and Almirola as the event reached its final 60-lap mark.
With 50 laps remaining, Blaney was leading NY a hair over Burton and followed by Wallace, Gragson and Almirola while Hamlin, Truex, Reddick, Elliott and Harvick were running in the top 10. By then, the top-22 competitors were separated by under a second while 35 lead lap competitors were separated by less than two seconds amid the tight two-lane packed racing.
Then with 47 laps remaining, the caution flew when Burton, who was being drafted by Gragson while battling for the lead, spun off the front nose of Gragson as he spun his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang below the Turn 3 apron, though he managed to sustain no significant damage. As the field checked up to avoid Burton’s spin, however, Logano got into the rear of Zane Smith, who then collected Austin Dillon as Dillon spun his No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 below the apron and the grass while Smith made more contact with Austin Hill.
During the caution period, the field led by Blaney pitted, mainly for fuel, and Blaney retained the lead after exiting first followed by Almirola, Wallace, Hamlin, Truex and Gragson. Prior to the restart, names that included Keselowski, Buescher, Erik Jones, Logano and Hill pitted to top off with enough fuel for the finish.
With the event restarting with 41 laps remaining, Blaney and Wallace dueled for the lead before Wallace received a draft from his owner Hamlin to move into the lead on the outside lane. With Blaney remaining on the inside lane and in front of Almirola, Wallace maintained his momentum and lead on the outside lane in front of Hamlin and Truex as the field fanned out to three tight-packed lanes.
With 38 laps remaining, the outside lane led by Wallace briefly stacked up, which enabled Preece to try to ignite a drafting charge on the outside lane as Blaney was pushed clear to the lead followed by Almirola, Gragson and Harvick. As the field continued to fan out through three tight-packed lanes, Gibbs charged his way into third in front of Gragson, Wallace, Hamlin and Harvick as Blaney retained the lead. Gibbs then started to challenge Blaney for the lead with 35 laps remaining while running in the middle lane while Preece launched another bid for the front on the outside lane.
A lap later, the battle for the lead fanned out to three tight-packed lanes amid the draft as Blaney, Gibbs and Preece, all of whom were the front-runners of each of the three lanes, dueled for the lead. As Gibbs managed to peek ahead to lead a lap for himself, Blaney and Preece fought back from their respective lanes, with Blaney receiving a strong push from Almirola on the inside lane to move ahead. With Preece slowly falling back on the outside lane, Gibbs received drafting help from Wallace and his Toyota teammates to keep Blaney within his sights under the final 30-lap mark.
Down to the final 25 laps of the event, Blaney was leading ahead of Almirola, Gragson, Gibbs and Harvick while Wallace, Chastain, Hamlin, Truex and Larson were scored in the top 10. By then, the top 20 competitors were separated by less than a second, with the top 33 separated by one-and-a-half seconds amid the tight-packed draft racing fanning out to three lanes.
Five laps later and with the field still fanned out to three lanes, Blaney and Gibbs continued to duel for the lead ahead of Almirola, Wallace and Gragson while Stenhouse tried to form a third drafting lane to the front. Another two laps later, the inside lane gained momentum as Blaney started to pull ahead followed by Almirola, Gragson, Harvick, Chastain, Larson, Kyle Busch and Allmendinger while Gibbs, Wallace and Hamlin were losing touch with the leaders while running on the outside lane. With 15 laps remaining, however, the outside lane led by Gibbs and followed by Wallace, Hamlin and Truex regained their momentum as Gibbs started to challenge Blaney for the lead.
Down to the final 10 laps of the event and with fuel becoming questionable for the front-runners, the top-33 competitors were separated within a second and in tight formation amid the draft as both Blaney and Gibbs continued to fight for the lead followed by Wallace, Hamlin, Almirola, Gragson, Truex, Harvick, Haley and Chastain.
With seven laps remaining, the top-four competitors that included Blaney, Almirola, Gragson and Harvick broke away from the tight pack while Gibbs was trying to maintain momentum as the lead competitor on the outside lane. Then as the intensity toward the front continued, the caution flew with five laps remaining when Logano, who darted to the outside lane to ignite a charge to the front while running in the middle of the pack, got bumped and loose by LaJoie as he briefly bounced off of Suarez before making contact with the backstretch’s outside wall and spinning below the track. Stenhouse and Herbst also sustained damage along with Byron, who made contact with Burton as Burton spun and slapped the inside wall, as the event was sent into overtime.
During the caution period, select names that included Byron, Bell, Stenhouse and Ty Dillon pitted for fuel while the rest led by Blaney remained on the track.
At the start of the first overtime attempt, where Blaney and Gragson occupied the front row, Gragson received a push from Chastain to peek ahead of Blaney entering the first turn. Then through Turns 1 and 2, Chastain tried to make a move between Blaney and Gragson for the lead. Amid the tight racing, Chastain and Gragson ended up making contact as Gragson’s No. 42 Wendy’s Beef is in the Bag Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 ended up shooting back across the track and hitting the outside wall. In the ensuing process, Larson got turned by Harvick as he spun below the apron. Larson then came back across the track and despite being dodged by most of the oncoming field, he was T-boned by Preece’s No. 41 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang as both of their events came to an end.
Under the caution period, Harvick, Hamlin, Chastain and Haley pitted for fuel while the rest led by Blaney remained on the track.
During the start of the second overtime attempt, where Blaney and Kyle Busch occupied the front row, the momentum occurred on the outside lane as Busch was drafted into the lead followed by Wallace and Keselowski while Blaney was left to battle Truex for fourth. By then, Gibbs pulled his No. 54 Monster Energy Toyota TRD Camry below the track after running out of fuel. Through the backstretch, the inside lane led by Busch continued to gain more momentum while Truex was mired back in sixth despite remaining on the outside lane.
Then through the frontstretch, Wallace made his move on Busch and assumed the lead on the outside lane in his No. 23 Columbia Toyota TRD Camry with drafting help from Blaney’s No. 12 Wurth Ford Mustang as he started the final lap of the event. Through Turn 1, however, Blaney tried to make a move beneath Wallace for the lead but was blocked. He then moved up the track along with Wallace and the two made contact, which resulted in Wallace getting loose and spinning sideways as he came down the track and clipped Keselowski before spinning within the middle of the pack and towards oncoming competitors. Among those involved on the final lap included Keselowski, Truex, Allmendinger, Cindric, Gilliland and Byron while the rest of the field scattered to avoid the carnage.
With the caution waving and the race deemed official, Kyle Busch was back in front ahead of Blaney. Amid concerns of not having enough fuel to finish, Busch was able to have enough to remain ahead of Blaney and navigate his No. 8 McLaren Custom Grills Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 through the frontstretch before claiming the checkered flag and the official victory.
With the victory, Busch, who won earlier at Auto Club Speedway in late February, notched his second NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2023 season, which makes him the third multi-time winner of this season. He also notched his 62nd career win in NASCAR’s premier series, which makes the 2023 season Busch’s 13th of 19 full-time seasons with multiple Cup victories. The Talladega victory was also Busch’s second of his Cup career, with his first dating back to April 2008, and the 13th overall for Richard Childress Racing. Ironically, Busch’s Talladega victory marked his first restrictor-plate victory since winning at Daytona International Speedway in July 2008.
“Sometimes, you got to be lucky,” Busch said on FOX. “Some of these races come down to that. You gotta take’em when they come your way. The seas kind of parted there when [Wallace and Blaney] went up the racetrack. They were trying to push draft. These cars are just not stable enough to do that. Seeing [Wallace] just turn a little bit sideways, I was like get out of the way, just miss it and try to see if I was ahead of [Blaney] by the time [the race] was called. Just a great day for another new sponsor at [Richard Childress Racing] with McLaren Custom Grills. We have a great time being able to come out here and race and be a part of Team Chevy and get this Camaro in Victory Lane.”
“We were sweating it being close [on fuel],” Busch added. “I thought back to California, Fontana, earlier this year where we have a win. I’m like we gotta gamble. We’re up here, you gotta take the track position when you have it and go give it what you can on the restarts and see what happens. Low and behold, it worked out. Knock on wood for this one.”
Following an extensive review of the finishing order amid the final lap chaos, Blaney settled in second place after leading a race-high 47 laps. Buescher made his way to third followed by Briscoe, who rallied from losing a lap to the leaders, while Keselowski ended up fifth.
“You get big runs and you take’em when you can,” Blaney said. “I’m glad everyone’s OK, but on my mind, you kind of triple move like that, triple block and you can’t block three times. Just the runs are so big and as the leader, with Bubba, he’s trying to block, which is the right thing to do, but I think he kind of moved three times. You don’t really get a lot of those. I gotta go somewhere, so I hate that good cars got torn up. I hate for us being so close for the win. I’m not blaming anybody. It’s just hard racing at the end of this thing. Unfortunate [that] cars got tore up and we just missed out on another win.”
Erik Jones, Byron, Bell, Suarez and Todd Gilliland finished in the top 10. Notably, Elliott finished 12th in front of Bowman, Ty Dillon and Stenhouse while Hamlin ended up 17th behind Reddick. Almirola fell back to 22nd behind teammate Harvick, who made his 800th Cup career start, while Truex ended up 27th. Meanwhile, Wallace, who led 35 laps, was left in 28th place while Ty Gibbs ended up 31st after not having enough fuel to finish.
There were 57 lead changes for 21 different leaders. The race featured eight cautions for 34 laps. In addition, 27 of 38 starters finished on the lead lap.
Following the 10th event of the 2023 Cup Series season, Christopher Bell leads the regular-season standings by 12 points over Ross Chastain, 20 over Kevin Harvick, 36 over Kyle Larson, 41 over Kyle Busch and 45 over Tyler Reddick.
1. Kyle Busch, three laps led
2. Ryan Blaney, 47 laps led
3. Chris Buescher
4. Chase Briscoe, one lap led
5. Brad Keselowski, two laps led
6. Erik Jones, three laps led
7. William Byron, one lap led
8. Christopher Bell
9. Daniel Suarez, five laps led
10. Todd Gilliland
11. JJ Yeley
12. Chase Elliott, 18 laps led, Stage 1 winner
13. Alex Bowman, eight laps led
14. Ty Dillon
15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
16. Tyler Reddick
17. Denny Hamlin, seven laps led
18. BJ McLeod
19. Justin Haley
20. Riley Herbst
21. Kevin Harvick, 11 laps led
22. Aric Almirola, 11 laps led, Stage 2 winner
23. Ross Chastain
24. Austin Hill
25. Corey LaJoie
26. Austin Cindric
27. Martin Truex Jr., 19 laps led
28. Bubba Wallace – OUT, Accident, 35 laps led
29. AJ Allmendinger – OUT, Accident
30. Joey Logano, one lap down, three laps led
31. Ty Gibbs – OUT, Fuel, four laps led
32. Noah Gragson – OUT, Accident, one lap led
33. Kyle Larson – OUT, Accident
34. Ryan Preece – OUT, Accident, two laps led
35. Michael McDowell, 13 laps down
36. Harrison Burton – OUT, Accident, 11 laps led
37. Zane Smith – OUT, Accident
38. Austin Dillon – OUT, Accident
Next on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the series’ lone visit of this season to Dover Motor Speedway in Dover, Delaware. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, April 30, at 2 p.m. ET on FS1.