SPARTA – Kentucky Speedway was repaved and reconfigured over the offseason but Kyle Busch showed Friday evening that he still knows how to get around it.
Busch dominated the Alsco 300 but his fifth victory in nine NASCAR XFINITY Series starts this season didn’t come easily.
A late caution set up a green-white-checkered flag overtime finish that wasn’t decided until Busch powered past Austin Dillon on the outside raced through Turns 3 and 4 on the restart lap. Once past Dillon, Busch pulled away for his 81st career XFINITY Series victory.
“It feels good to score that victory and get back to victory lane here at Kentucky Speedway,” said Busch, who started from the pole and led 185 of 201 laps. “It’s been a long, long time for the JGR XFINITY Series program and for me it’s been a long time. It certainly feels good.”
The reigning Sprint Cup Series champion now owns seven career victories across four series at Kentucky Speedway, including two in the XFINITY Series. His other series victory on the 1.5-mile track came in 2004.
Only Dillon has led more laps in an XFINITY race at Kentucky Speedway than Friday’s race winner did.
Busch chose the outside lane on the decisive restart and had teammate Daniel Suarez to his inside. Dillon was in third place and surged past Suarez on the restart. He pulled even with Busch and they raced side-by-side into Turn 3.
Dillon held the preferred inside line but Busch still managed to get his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to stick on the outside to get around Dillon and secure the lead.
“I didn’t think he could hold the outside like that,” said Dillon, who finished 0.455 of a second behind Busch in the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. “He did a heck of a job holding me down there. I didn’t race him dirty. I should have just held her wide open and went through there.”
“That last restart, I heard three-wide for a second, and I was like, I don’t know how we’re all going to get through here,” said Busch. “I tried tried to get a little bit of room, then I heard clear, and turned down.”
Suarez finished third in the No. 19 Toyota and leads the points standings by nine over Elliott Sadler, who finished sixth. Fellow JGR driver Erik Jones finished fourth in the No. 20 Toyota and Darrell Wallace Jr. rounded out the top five.
Jones had the lead taken away from him after passing Busch with a gutsy move on a restart with 26 laps remaining. NASCAR penalized Jones for not keeping up with the pace car while under caution. So instead of restarting in second place, Jones dropped back to third while Busch inherited the lead.
“I fell back and apparently it was too far,” Jones said. “I wasn’t more than I don’t know 20 or 30 feet behind the pace car but I guess that was too much….It’s unfortunate. We had a good (car) and finally could have won the race. It’s just a really unfortunate night.”
Busch chose the outside lane for the restart that won him the race after seeing Jones beat him on the earlier restart. Busch chose the inside lane, putting Jones on his outside.
The teammates raced side-by-side into Turn 3. Jones stayed on the gas and made his car stick on the outside of Busch. He completed the pass in Turn 4 moments before Ray Black Jr. slapped the outside wall behind them to bring out the fourth of Friday’s five cautions.
“I figured that was going to be the smart thing to do because I had been trying to run around some lapped cars on the top-side of (Turns) 3 and 4,” Busch said. “You would just get so loose on entry, then so tight in the middle of the corner, that you were taking a really big risk of getting outside the black and getting into the gray and potentially crashing your car.
“That’s why I didn’t want the outside. I just didn’t think it was going to carry the speed like the inside would. Erik Jones proved me wrong. I certainly learned from that. And when he had his problems there with not being able to get the car re-fired, it just kind of handed the race back to us and from there I chose to restart on the outside. That’s what won us the race.”
JGR swept the top three spots in qualifying. Busch’s lap of 187.318 mph established a new series track qualifying record. Suarez’s best lap was faster than the old record but at 187.298 mph only good enough for second. Jones qualified third.