Busch holds off Nemechek to win Xfinity race in Vegas
It took successful a gamble, a serendipitous caution and a couple of overtimes for Las Vegas native Kyle Busch to win a second NASCAR Xfinity Series race on his home track, but Busch beat the odds in Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300.
A lap down at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel, Busch rallied to win his 93rd Xfinity race, extending his series record and bringing his victory total across NASCAR’s three national series to 197.
Having also won Friday night’s NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series event, Busch will now go for the third three-race weekend sweep of his career in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
After a wreck in the first overtime ruined the chances of reigning champion Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Austin Cindric and Zane Smith, Busch held off John Hunter Nemechek in the second overtime, clearing the No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet off Turn 4 on Lap 212 and beating Nemechek to the checkered flag by .192 seconds a lap later.
Busch returned to the lead lap with a wave-around but had to fight through traffic on old tires. A caution on Lap 59, however, gave Busch the opportunity he needed to pit for tires, and after restarting 17th on Lap 63, Busch charged to third by the end of the stage on Lap 90.
Passing Reddick for the lead on Lap 111, Busch was out front for a total of 98 laps, as the race went 13 laps beyond its scheduled distance.
“It was really tough to come back from one of those setbacks,” Busch said. “I wasn’t sure how we were going to be able to do it down a set of tires. We got a lucky break with a caution during the second stage.
“That kind of got us back on cycle, and we were able to put the first set (of tires) back on with fresh wheels so we didn’t have any more issues there.”
With Bell winning last week at Atlanta, the new Toyota Supras have won two straight races.
“It’s cool to be able to back up Christopher’s win last week and get the Supra back in Victory Lane with me,” said Busch, who won in his first of seven Xfinity starts this season. “I wanted to be the first one, but he had to show me up a little bit last week.”
Busch is the only driver to sweep three national-series events in the same weekend, a feat he accomplished twice at Bristol, in 2010 and 2017. But a sweep at his home track would be all the more meaningful.
“I thought this was going to be the toughest of the three (races), because we could never get the balance right,” Busch said of the Xfinity event. “I was either way too tight or way too loose. I could never find a happy medium.
“Overall, I feel like our Cup car is pretty good. The car has some speed. We ran a lot out there in the pack and in traffic, and it’s going to be an interesting race (on Sunday). Make sure everybody tunes in.”
Las Vegas native Noah Gragson ran third, followed by Austin Dillon and Daytona winner Michael Annett.
Ryan Sieg, Ross Chastain, Chase Briscoe, Custer and Justin Haley completed the top 10.
Nemechek ran side-by-side with Busch but couldn’t keep up off Turn 4 on the penultimate lap.
“We gave him a run for his money,” Nemechek said. “I’ve been beaten by Kyle too many times, in late model races and now in the Xfinity Series. Hopefully, we can come out on top and build momentum off of this.”
Bell grabbed the lead from Busch on Lap 181 but brushed the outside wall soon thereafter, and Busch regained the top spot on Lap 182. Busch was a quarter-lap away from the white flag when contact between Custer’s Ford and the Toyota of Brandon Jones caused the sixth caution and forced overtime.
On the first attempt, Reddick spun beneath Busch’s Toyota in Turn 4, knocked Bell’s Toyota sideways, and triggered a wreck that also collected Smith and Cindric.
That accident set up Busch’s winning dash and primed him for a possible sweep on Sunday.
“To do it here in Las Vegas at my home track would be huge,” Busch said.
The Xfinity Series is back on track on March 9 at for the race at ISM Raceway (4 p.m. ET, FS1).
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 Extreme Concepts iK9 Toyota Supra, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 1st
How did you keep your rookie crew chief and yourself in the game?
“I didn’t keep myself in the game. I knew to keep fighting and keep working. It was early enough where you could try to come back from one of those kinds of setbacks. I wasn’t sure how we were going to be able to do it being short a set of tires. We got a lucky break with that caution in the second stage that kind of got us back on cycle where we able to get our first set back on with fresh wheels, so we didn’t have any more issues there. How about Joe Gibbs Racing and Ben Beshore (crew chief) and the guys on this iK9 Supra. It’s cool to be able to back up Christopher’s (Bell) win last week and get the Supra back to Victory lane with me in it. I wanted to be the first one, but he had to outstand me and show me up last week. Proud of Toyota and proud of these guys and thank Monster Energy, Cessna, Adidas, Black Clover and of course the fans. It’s cool to come out here and be a part of the Las Vegas and the hometown. Especially with the opportunity to race in front of my home crowd. Having a rookie crew chief like Ben and being able to get him his first win. I don’t know how many crew chiefs I won with in the Xfinity Series, but the list is a long one. I appreciate all of them.”
You’re trying to complete the triple, how are you looking for tomorrow?
“I thought this would be the toughest of the three. We had a fast race car, but we could never get the balance even in the race right there. I was either way too tight or way too loose, I could never find a happy medium. Overall, I feel like the Cup car is pretty good. The M&M’s Chocolate Bar Camry got some speed to it as well and we ran a lot out there in traffic and the pack. So, it will be interesting tomorrow.”
How do you stay in the game?
“I didn’t, really. Obviously, just knowing we had a fast car and needed to figure out how and where. And how and why we will be able to get back on the lead lap and get back on the tire strategy with everyone else. It could have been a long race. The last segment could go green the whole way. You pit once and you put one set of tires, and it could have equaled out. I thought okay, there’s an opportunity here. There’s a lot of things that have to go our way. Fortunately, that caution in the beginning of the second stage went our way and allowed us to put our first set of tires on with a fresh wheel and not have issues after that. I can’t say enough about all of our guys. Everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing. Everyone from Extreme Concepts and iK9. This Supra was fast out there today and awfully fun to drive. We worked for that one that’s for sure.”
Were you most worried about trying to win today?
“A little bit. The balance. We had been fighting the balance with these cars lately and trying to be able to get that right. It’s either too loose or too tight. We can’t find a happy medium. Overall, Ben worked really hard. Really appreciative of him and the guys to get me a fast car and bring it home.”
What happened on the restart when Tyler Reddick got to your side and back bumper?
“When you’re on the restarts there in those late stages like that, you’re always kind of watching the guys behind you and who the guys behind you are. You always kind of know that the outside is the protective ground of just being able to hold that guy on the inside tight and be able to slow him down. Obviously getting down the back straightaway into turn three, (Tyler) Reddick drove it off in there really far and I did too because I had to match him to make sure I could stay side-by-side with him and not give him any room to be able to slide up in front of me. When I did that, I don’t know if I was too tight with him or not, I don’t know what happened. I got to be able to go back and look at it and see. I thought I left him about a quarter car width worth of room, which is decent in that situation with a green-white-checkered coming up. Ain’t nobody going to give anybody an inch. Obviously it’s time to go win a race and I don’t know if he lost it or slid up, I know that when I start to kind of feel him slide, I move up and out of the way to try to give him more slide room and I think he was just gone by then, I don’t know. Overall, the next restart, same thing John Hunter (Nemechek) was on my inside on turn three and he didn’t drive it off in there as far. It looked like his car kind of stuck and rolled the bottom and mine stuck and rolled the middle and I was just able to clear him with the momentum of the line that I was in. That kind of set us back to, being able to take the white flag.”
Does the adversity motivate you in the race and what did you struggle with regarding handling with the car?
“The car was evil again today. Just can’t find a balance with these Xfinity cars. I’m either sideways loose or I’m plowing tight, I cannot figure it out right now. We were plowing tight there in front of Christopher (Bell) when we were leading the race and he ran me down and caught me a little bit and then I was sideways loose and he ran me down and caught me there at the last run as well. It just doesn’t matter, it’s like I just can’t figure it out. Guys kept giving me adjustments and we made small, small adjustments there for the final run of the race and got back on the tight side again. It’s just a knife’s edge and you’re just see-sawing with adjustments. Overall, it’s frustrating to come out there in the early part of a race and when the guys roll through tech and they torque the wheels two or three times rolling out to the grid and then we run 15 laps and we’ve got a loose wheel, it just doesn’t make any sense. The wheels have been torqued, they’ve been through the tech line and it just doesn’t register in my brain that something like that can happen. Certainly there’s going to be some frustration out of that. It wasn’t anything malicious, they didn’t forget to do it, they said they torqued them twice so I don’t know why it came loose.”
Why did you choose the outside line for the final restarts?
“That’s what I meant earlier when I said that’s the protective line. When you’re on the inside and you’ve got somebody on your outside, it’s easy for that guy on the outside to suck the inside guy around. When I’m on the outside, I have the opportunity to control the guys’ car on the inside a little bit more. That’s why you choose that, it’s a safety thing so you don’t have anybody on your outside because the right side of these cars is so, so important.”
How much did the weather effect the car during the race?
“Temperature and winds and clouds and stuff, I thought there towards the end the track tightened up a little bit, but then I was the loosest with 25 (laps) to go that I had been all day, not all day, I was way looser at the start of the race when it was sunny. When the track shades over in one and two with the billboards and everything over there, it gets a lot of grip over on that end and then three and four always kind of sees the sun throughout the entirety and it’s always kind of slick down there. It was a bit interesting though, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top, it seemed like you could about go anywhere so it was pretty racey today.”
Where do you think you have the best chance to complete the triple?
“Anywhere. I’ve won at every track, right? For me, though. I feel like the Vegas is one of the more challenging ones because I am not great here on the Cup Series side. We’ve had some decent runs and we had a strong run last year in the spring race. We ran second. I felt like we could have given (Kevin) Harvick a run for his money if we ever restarted up front. But we never did. With this new package, with the race and what we saw in practice, and what we’ll see tomorrow, it’s going to be a whole new and different ball game. I don’t know what to expect or how to figure what our chances are for the victory going after a win tomorrow. I’d like to see yes, we can win tomorrow, sure. But as far as if I have a top-five or top-10 car, it is so hard to tell right now with being with the back and driving around guys and seeing other guys fast or driving away from you. Then three runs later in practice you drive right by them and blow them by. It’s hard to give a description on that.”
In final practice you squeezed by Austin Dillon, did you feel stable in the pack?
“Yeah, I cannot recall your situation. I do remember one time when I was blending in out of Turn 4, I got up in front of the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) and jumped in front of him. He had a head of steam coming and I pulled up in front of him and that probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But a teammate will give you the benefit of the doubt more than someone else might. Obviously, you’re trying to figure out how to make runs on guys and if you can go to the bottom with someone through the corner or how fast you can complete the pass to get back up in line because on the straightaway if you’re the guy on the bottom lane, you will get run over if there is a lane of guys on your outside. It is going to be important to have outside restarts and be able to be get up. It is a longer way around. You want to be on the bottom in the corners and the top in the straightaways. How you figure that out and make those maneuvers and find those holes to get back into is going to be the trick.”
What would it mean to you to get the trifecta at Las Vegas?
“It would mean a great deal. I have won it twice before both at Bristol Motor Speedway. To do it here in Las Vegas at my hometown track would be huge. It would be right up there with the other two being able to accomplish it and with this new aero package and being at a 1.5-mile track. I have won about everywhere, but Bristol is my absolutely one of my favorites and Vegas is not so much one of my favorites. It would be nice to come out here with that win.”
BEN BESHORE, crew chief, No. 18 Extreme Concepts iK9 Toyota Supra, Joe Gibbs Racing
Can you take us through the ups and downs of your day today?
“Obviously it didn’t start off very well with having the loose wheel at the start of the race there. We have to look and see what happened there. Do a little bit more research on that. Not sure the cause of that, but that set us behind. Took a little bit of a gamble there after the first segment, take the wave around and luckily got a caution and got back on the tire cycles and then raced them from there.”
Were you worried about the handling of the car in the closing laps?
“Obviously I was really worried. The 2 (Tyler Reddick) car was really fast, the 20 (Christopher Bell) was really fast today and we just seemed to be back and forth too loose, too tight and we thought we were making small adjustments and kept swinging one way or the other. We definitely weren’t handling the best we could of today, we had some deficiencies there, but Kyle (Busch) did a great job hanging with us and giving us good feedback so we could make the best adjustments possible. The wind there was kind of fighting us too, but that’s the same for everybody.”
How did Kyle’s wrath over the loose wheel motivate the team?
“You get behind there early, but you know with Kyle (Busch), he is so good that you’re able to come back from that kind of stuff. It’s not going to be the end of your day. As long as you stick with it and luckily it was early in the race, but these Xfinity races are so much shorter, but we were able to come back there and kind of got lucky with the one caution and getting back on the lead lap.”
Were you in the ideal spot after the second stage?
“Not ideal, we weren’t happy with the car at that point, but at least we had gotten up to third. Those guys were within reach and we could go race them.”
What did you do to get the car ready for today after Kyle wasn’t happy with it in practice yesterday?
“I don’t think we fixed it. It wasn’t as good as it needed to be there. We did make some adjustments that we were just back and forth, too loose, too tight and we just couldn’t find the happy medium. We’ll have to go back and look at our notes from last year for the upcoming races at Phoenix and California and try something else. We definitely have some room to improve there.”
Did the rain this morning change the track for today’s race?
“Typically, it does change it here, but the wind today was really gusty. That makes the cars just inconsistent and the evil-handling comments – they just never know what they’re going to get. They’re trying to drive to the absolute limit every lap and when you have 20 mph gusts one lap and a 40 mph gust the next lap, they just never know what to expect. They kind of have to drive under the limit a little bit just to have a little left so they don’t crash.”
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