Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota, celebrates with… (Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images…)
Kyle Busch put it as succinctly as anyone: "We stole this one."
While Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick kept swapping the lead during most of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday in Fontana, it was Busch who grabbed the checkered flag after his crew chief made a huge gamble near the end.
When the field needed to make pit stops with less than 20 laps left in the 150-lap Royal Purple 300 at Auto Club Speedway, Busch's crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, called for changing only two tires on Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after Edwards and Harvick had changed four tires.
Busch "was in the best position being back there [in third place] watching what we were going to do and then doing the opposite," Edwards said.
The gamble gave Busch the lead he needed to win, even though Edwards and Harvick — who finished second and third, respectively — nearly chased Busch down in the final 10 laps, especially after Busch brushed the Turn 2 wall on his final lap around the two-mile speedway.
"I knew I had enough [of a] gap that it didn't matter" scraping the wall, Busch said, although he added, "good thing there wasn't one more lap."
"Jason surprised all of us and pulled one out of the hat," Busch said. "We had just enough room and that's all that mattered."
Busch's win on a chilly, overcast day extended his remarkable run in NASCAR's second-tier series. Busch now has won three of the first five Nationwide races this season, and it was his third consecutive Nationwide win at Fontana.
But even Busch, 25, was surprised he found Victory Lane on Saturday. "We were a third- or fourth-place car," he said.
Ratcliff agreed that "we weren't going to win it by taking four tires" on the last pit stop. "It worked out. It's fun to win one like that."
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., a 23-year-old teammate of Edwards' at Roush Fenway Racing, led 10 laps before finishing fourth, and Stenhouse now leads the Nationwide standings by six points over Jason Leffler, who finished 11th. Elliott Sadler was fifth and Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne finished sixth.