LONG POND, Pa. — First came Martinsville in April, when Kyle Busch led the NASCAR Cup Series race for 274 of 500 laps but finished second. Then came Talladega in May, when Busch was in control until the final lap before Ricky Stenhouse Jr. slipped past him on an overtime restart. And Busch led for 87 of the first 110 laps last weekend at Indianapolis before a crash took him out on Lap 111.
The polarizing NASCAR driver's winless streak reached a career-high 36 races, but he snapped it Sunday by winning the Overton's 400 by 6.178 seconds at Pocono Raceway.
The statistics behind Busch's drought became confounding. Entering Sunday, he had led for 1,040 laps this year — more than the entire 2015 season, in which Busch won the Cup Series — but had not won a race. In between his most crushing defeats came a disastrous restart at Dover in June and another unfortunate late caution in the season's first race at Pocono.
"It's definitely frustrating and aggravating and disheartening," Busch said after Sunday's win. "I think that's the biggest thing … We work so hard in this business and we've had fast race cars. That just goes to show you that we've had speed, that we've been right there, that we've been able to do what we should be doing, and that's running up front."
Earlier Sunday, Busch won his fifth pole of the season, so he came out last during the driver introductions and received his typical chorus of boos from the grandstand. The tempestuous driver's struggles at Pocono matched his bad luck this season. He had raced 25 times here without a win, making it one of two tracks where he had not visited Victory Lane.
His last trip here, he led by as many as 10 seconds with a chance to snap that skid. But he chose to stay on the track during the final caution, and the rest of the field caught him with new tires.
On Sunday, he brought the fastest car again. With 20 laps to go, the last major pit stop of the day sparked a furious chase between the four leaders to the finish at Pocono. To win it, Busch had to come from fourth to first on tires 10 laps fresher than his competitors.
The first driver ahead was Martin Truex, who got loose on Lap 111 last weekend to cause the wreck that spelled Busch's defeat. Busch passed Truex almost immediately and jumped teammate Denny Hamlin for second on Lap 144. With 15 laps to go, Busch nudged the leader Kevin Harvick and jumped into first. He spent the rest of the race pulling away.
"There was no battle," Harvick said. "He was way faster than we were. In the lap he happened to catch me, I was thinking, 'All right, we just need to stay on the bottom,' and I got sideways going into [the No. 3 car]. … [Busch] got through traffic good, got to us, got around us, gone."
In his last race at Pocono before retirement, fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 12th. The local crowd came out to support him one final time, writing messages to him in marker on the track before the race. The fans wished him luck. They thanked him for the memories.