By Julie Glass
Kyle Busch was a man on a mission at Pocono Raceway to win the Gander Outdoors 400 and continue a seasonal march that keeps his name solidly on the list of championship favorites.
It was Busch’s sixth of the year, tying him with Kevin Harvick in that column.
The victory was the 49th of his career, and that number put him in a tie for 13th on the all-time list with Tony Stewart. He’s likely to soon meet other giants of the sport — drivers like Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett — on the way up that list.
Busch’s victory came a day after he scored his 51st Camping World Truck Series win, earning another acclaimed tie. Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. also had 51 wins, tops in that series.
While Busch was celebrating another landmark in victory lane, there were celebrations of another sort happening across the garage area. Only minutes before the race’s checkered flag, young driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. had endured one of the season’s worst crashes, and there were immediate fears that the result would be anything but good.
Wallace slammed into the first-turn wall a few laps from the race finish. The brakes on Wallace’s car failed at the fastest point on one of the circuit’s fastest tracks, leaving him no escape and a long three seconds to ponder how it would feel hitting the wall with brute force.
Wallace’s Chevrolet probably was traveling around 200 miles per hour at the point of impact.
The car hit the wall on the passenger side before rolling to a stop, smoke shooting from the battered remains.
Several seconds passed as thousands in the grandstand and many more across the viewing and listening audience waited for a sign that Wallace wasn’t hurt. Then the window net fell open — the sign that the driver is OK — and the sigh of relief was louder than a tricked-out engine.
After a trip to the infield medical center, Wallace emerged shaken but standing, ready to race another day.
“It was a hellacious ride,” he said. “For about two to three seconds, you’re just helpless. There’s nothing you can do.”
He quickly thought to urge the car to “Please stop. It did. When it hit the fence, it knocked the wind out of me. That’s why it took me a while to drop the window net. I’m sorry about that.”