The Final NASCAR Cup Race @ Fontana
NASCAR Fontana - the last of its kind before the track is torn down.
A wreck in mid-pack on a restart. A few glimpses of sun in an otherwise cloudy day. Temps in the range of 48 degrees when it was all done. And the guy who won his first race here in 2005, Kyle Busch, won his first with his new team, Childress Racing. This was NASCAR Fontana, the last of its kind before the track is torn down.
By Brian Kennedy
Mon, Feb 27, 2023 09:01 PM PST
Images by Albert Wong.
The action began at 12:47 and ended precisely at 4pm. Good thing, because there was still another race to run - the Xfinity race put off Saturday due to rain. That winner, not this one, would thus be the one who won last.
After the Cup race, a couple of drivers commented on the track surface, both expressing disappointment that this is the end for Fontana in this format. Daniel Suarez said, “If it was up to me, I would leave it just the way it is. It’s a lot of fun. It’s one of the best tracks that we have.”
Chase Elliott commented, similarly: “It’s fine to me. I don’t think it’s changed much in the last four or five years. I’d say they could go quite a while.” The eventual winner would echo this. But that was after more than three hours of racing.
How’d the action go? The last thirty or so laps were uneventful, Busch had a gap on Elliott at the end which was maybe 20 car lengths. The first five cars, in fact, were strung out about like that. Those drivers were Busch, Elliott, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, and Kevin Harvick. For much of the day, it had looked like Chastain would be the winner, as he led five times for 91 total laps (of 200). He ended up third. Elliott was second at the checkered flag. The winner, Kyle Busch, was out front for 27 laps, including that all-important #200.
There was more opinion rendered about the track, all regretful of its loss. Randall Burnett, Kyle Busch’s crew chief, said, “I will miss this track. On restarts they were four and five wide, running all over the track. . . . I think it’s a great race track, and we’re going to miss this place when it’s gone.”
He further detailed Busch’s day, which involved surviving a pit road speeding penalty. That’s a matter of personality, he explained: “If you look back on it, he’s one of the best on pit road every year, and it’s because he’s aggressive. He’s got a way that he likes to do things, and it’s on the limit. Every now and then you’re going to get caught . . . but he gets everything he can, all the time. That’s why he’s won so many races. Everything to the limit. I think it shows, and he’s good at that.”
Busch himself was pleased with his day, which saw him win on the track he got his first win on in 2005, in a hot (blazing) Labor Day affair. This time, amongst his leading laps were 180-200, so there was no contest late. There were eight yellow flag sessions for 38 laps. This was Busch’s 61st Cup series victory in 644 starts. Five times, he has won at this track.
The victory breaks a tie for consecutive seasons with a Cup win. It had been Busch and Richard Petty at 18. He and his brother, the currently idled Kurt Busch, have now won more races than any other brother duo.
Kyle said after that his missed having his brother in the field but that he admired his new role at 23/11 racing. “It was cool to see him come up to the car and be a part of our celebration for a quick moment. It’s fun to set records all ways, and when you’re able to do it as a brother tandem, it’s special for our parents, I’m sure.”
Busch explained various aspects of his day. He started by chastising Chastain for blocking, but said that was a product of the track, also, being two miles. “I’m glad we were able to find a way around him and then have good execution on that final stop.”
He also talked about the final stint, leading to the win: “There were a couple of moments when I got loose on that final run, and I thought, ‘Please don’t’ but fortunately I was able to hold on and find another groove that my car would work better in. It was always a constant evolution of where you needed to be, and just trying to work. That’s what I enjoy about this race track. It’s a two-mile track, it’s big, it gets spread out, but you can spread out, make your own destiny by trying to find something else that will work for your race car. So you know, it’s a sad day for me seeing this track being its last race as a two-mile track. I’m glad I was able to win the final one here.”
Well, not quite. There was an Xfinity race to go. That would be the final one.
About The Author
Brian Kennedy always wanted a ’66 Mustang. 10 years ago, he bought one – and he’s been restoring it ever since. Brian extended his passion for cars by covering events for magazines like Grassroots Motorsports, Sportscar, and Victory Lane – e.g., events in Cart, Pro Rally, Formula Atlantic, the SCCA Runoffs, Trans Am, SVRA, VSCDA, and VARA. He’s also profiled a number of cars and interviewed a number of personalities – among them: Gene Felton (IMSA), Hurley Haywood, Jerry Seinfeld, and Nigel Olsson.