Kyle Busch wins fuel-mileage race at Pocono with a car stuck in fourth gear

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Kyle Busch's busted shifter helped get him a win on Sunday at Pocono.

Busch's car was stuck in fourth gear and didn't have a clutch for the second half of the race. That's typically a bad thing. But that transmission problem meant that Busch's team pitted him late in the race's final caution. Busch then had enough gas to drive his way through the field and pass teammate Denny Hamlin on the penultimate lap for the win.

Hamlin had to pit for fuel ahead of the white flag right after leader William Byron had pitted for fuel. Many teams were trying to make it 46 laps around the 2.5-mile track on their final tank of gas. Since Busch pitted behind everyone else, he had to make it 45 laps. That was key, as Busch didn't have to sweat as much about his fuel tank as everyone else.

"Sometimes these races aren't always won by the fastest car, but I felt we had the fastest car," Busch said. "Even though we were in the back and behind and having to come through and persevere through being stuck in fourth gear, no clutch, all that stuff. It's all burned out."

The late pit stop was also necessary because Busch had to start behind the field on that final restart out of sheer preservation. Since the car was stuck in fourth gear, Busch couldn't accelerate like everyone else. As his car was so slow to get to top speed, he would have to restart way behind everyone else so he could be going faster when he got the green flag.

"The biggest thing was trying to time the restart right," Busch said. "Leave pit road, come back around, be at full speed by the time the field takes the start/finish line."

Busch first noticed that his shifter was having problems in the first half of the race when he told his team that he had to hold it in fourth gear. That turned into the shifter getting stuck in fourth gear as Busch discovered he couldn't downshift the car when he came to make a pit stop.

The team made multiple attempts to fix the problem to no avail. A crew member was even in Busch's car at one point with the goal of getting the shifter to move. 

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The victory is Busch's second of the season and the first for a team other than Hendrick Motorsports since Martin Truex Jr. won at Darlington on May 9. Eleven drivers have won races through the first 19 races of the season. There are seven races to go before the playoffs begin. And with 16 drivers making the playoffs, six drivers would have to win over the next seven races for a driver with a win to get left out of the playoffs.  

Kyle Larson finished second after he was leading with less than a lap to go on Saturday. Larson's car had a flat left-front tire with about a mile to go before the checkered flag and he hit the wall in the final turn. That flat tire gave Alex Bowman the win in the first of two races at Pocono over the weekend. 

Sunday's final caution flag flew on lap 92 of the 140-lap race after Erik Jones had a flat tire and dropped debris on the track. That caution put teams on the precipice of their fuel windows and many teams elected to pit during the caution with the hope of making it to the end of the race with or without another caution flag. 

Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick were two of the drivers who did not pit during that final caution. They finished third and fourth, respectively, after pitting during the race's final green-flag run and then leapfrogging the drivers who had to pit late in the race for gas. Bubba Wallace finished fifth to get his first top-five finish of the season and the first top five for 23XI Racing.

The fuel strategy at the end and Busch's charge through the field livened up a race that, like Saturday, didn't feature too much passing under normal racing conditions. 

Race results

1. Kyle Busch

2. Kyle Larson

3. Brad Keselowski

4. Kevin Harvick

5. Bubba Wallace

6. Ryan Blaney

7. Alex Bowman

8. Ryan Preece

9. Tyler Reddick

10. Joey Logano

11. Martin Truex Jr.

12. William Byron

13. Austin Dillon

14. Denny Hamlin

15. Daniel Suarez

16. Aric Almirola

17. Michael McDowell

18. Matt DiBenedetto

19. Chris Buescher

20. Kurt Busch

21. Chase Briscoe

22. Ryan Newman

23. Corey LaJoie

24. Cole Custer

25. Justin Allgaier

26. Ross Chastain

27. Chase Elliott

28. Cody Ware

29. BJ McLeod

30. James Davison

31. Erik Jones

32. Christopher Bell

33. Quin Houff

34. Anthony Alfredo

35. Josh Bilicki

36. Garrett Smithley

37. Timmy Hill

38. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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