KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Kurt Busch was slowly driving his Jordan Brand-styled Toyota toward victory lane at Kansas Speedway on Sunday when car owner Denny Hamlin stopped him in his tracks, ducked his head through the window and said, "We did it."
Did they ever.
Busch survived a weary day of tire attrition, then pinched his way past Hendrick Motorsports' Kyle Larson for the lead with eight laps to go before driving away from the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion to win for the first time at Kansas. It also gave the second-year 23XI Racing team owned by Joe Gibbs Racing driver Hamlin and NBA great Michael Jordan its second victory.
"That's the most gratifying part, helping these guys win," said the 43-year-old Busch, who is 18 years removed from his lone Cup Series title. "It's all about teamwork. I don't do this alone."
Larson had the dominant car, with his Chevrolet riding the top line around the 1.5-mile oval, but Busch was able to put his Camry just about anywhere he wanted. That paid off when the two were side by side with eight to go and Busch squeezed by Larson, who brushed the wall and lost just enough momentum to surrender the lead — and the win.
Busch pulled his No. 45 car — one of the numbers that Jordan wore during his career — to a stop at the start-finish line and climbed out the window before throwing his arms up in triumph, the familiar Jumpman logo splashed across his fire suit.
Bubba Wallace triumphed last October at Talladega Superspeedway for 23XI Racing's breakthrough victory, and the organization's second win came at the most unexpected of times after neither of the team's drivers had finished in the top 10 this season.
"We as an organization kind of let these guys down — I'm talking about Bubba and Kurt, all the mistakes we'd made on pit road and whatnot," said Hamlin, who finished fourth Sunday. "But lets talk about the positives. I can't thank Kurt enough. The Jordan Brand's first race, so jealous he gets to drive that car, and then to have that thing so fast there, yeah, it's just — I've never had this kind of feeling, even for a win for me, much less when I didn't win. It's different."
There were no hard feelings about the way Busch raced to the finish, either.
"He never got into me. I'm trying to squeeze throttle to get position on him and just got tight," Larson said. "That was fun racing with Kurt the last half of the race. I was trying hard the whole time."
With 85 laps to go, Larson went nearly sideways while racing with Busch for the lead off the second turn.
"Just hard racing for the win," Larson said. "I was struggling in traffic a little bit, he was able to get by, and from there I just wanted to hold on to second. Just fought really hard today."
One of the big questions ahead of the race was how tires would fare under the Next Gen car during its Kansas debut, especially after several drivers had problems with their rear going down in practice. The problems began again during Sunday's second stage, with William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Martin Truex Jr. all experiencing tire trouble by the race's end.
"Our engineers were out talking to everyone who had issues in practice," said Greg Stucker, Goodyear's director of racing, who had advised teams prior to the weekend to increase rear air pressures to account for the loads. "We wanted to make sure everyone was aware of the situation."
JGR's Kyle Busch, who last week welcomed daughter Lennix Key into the world, held off Ross Chastain and Chase Elliott to win the first stage. Older brother Kurt beat him to the line to take the second stage with Elliott again coming across in third. The tire trouble eventually caught up to Elliott, sending his Hendrick Chevy spinning across the track with 70 laps to go before coming to rest in the muddy infield.
Kyle Busch had hoped to take home a trophy to his new baby girl, but despite a strong car all day, he wound up settling for third place. Maybe her uncle can bring that trophy by sometime.
"I finally conquered this track," Kurt said. "I can't believe it."
JGR's Christopher Bell parlayed his third pole position of the season into a fifth-place finish, with Truex, Chastain, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Alex Bowman and Wallace rounding out the top 10.
The series takes a regular-season break before the Coca-Cola 600 and heads to Texas Motor Speedway for next weekend's NASCAR All-Star Race.