Kyle Busch made his third XFINITY Series start of the season on Saturday and took home his third victory of 2016 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Busch was once again the dominant force of the afternoon, starting third and leading 175 of 200 laps in the Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter. 200. The win was his 79th overall XFINITY victory.
“I can’t say enough about (crew chief) Chris Gayle (and) everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing,” Busch said from victory lane. “We didn’t sit on the pole, but our teammates did, they were obviously really fast, and they made me run hard all day long. There’s nothing left in this car; it’s all used up.”
Busch’s teammates, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez, were indeed the only drivers who could keep Busch in sight for most of the event. Suarez looked like he could be Busch’s biggest challenger during the first half of the race, but it was Jones who really began to cut into Busch’s lead over the last 50 laps. Jones’ No. 20 car really came to life during the long run, and he slowly closed in on the No. 18 as Busch fought through lapped traffic.
Both drivers made their final pit stop of the day on lap 178. Jones was right on Busch’s back bumper as the two of them came to pit road. After the teammates both made two tire stops, Busch exited pit road with a two second lead over Jones, a lead that only grew when the new tires changed the handling of Jones’ car.
“Unfortunately, on the pit stop, we lost a lot of ground to (Busch),” Jones said after the race. “(We) just got too tight after that and he ran away, and didn’t start really breaking even with him until… a little less than 10 to go.”
Suarez finished third, securing the second-straight 1-2-3 finish for JGR. Busch and Jones led all but 20 laps of the 200 lap contest. Ty Dillon paced the field for 11 circuits after a two tire stop during the race’s final caution period won him the race off pit road. Brad Keselowski led nine laps late in the event while trying to stretch his fuel as long as possible.
After four races, Suarez remains the points leader by eight points over Elliott Sadler, who finished eighth. Dillon wound up sixth and sits only one point behind Sadler.
The most impressive performance at Phoenix from anyone not in a JGR Toyota was by Justin Allgaier. After starting 10th, Allgaier spent most of the day inside the top 10 and outran many of his fellow XFINITY regulars. His fourth place finish was his first top 5 of the season and fourth finish inside the top 12. He is currently fourth in points.
Jeremy Clements had a rough afternoon following an incident on lap 58 (more on that next). He finished five laps down in 28th place, dropping him outside the Chase cutoff for the first time this season.
Nobody’s on-track performance on Saturday was as ugly as FOX’s disappointing coverage of the race. Clements’ mishap occurred during a commercial break and nobody in the broadcast booth really explained what happened to cause the yellow flag to fly. The cameras did catch Clements on pit road after the fact but nothing else was said. Even worse was when the race’s third and final caution came out on lap 97. That one was apparently for JJ Yeley hitting the wall, but Adam Alexander did not mention that Yeley was responsible until after pit stops were complete, and there was never a replay of the incident. The FOX team is in its 16th year of covering NASCAR and held up admirably through a weekend of wacky weather at Las Vegas, so what went wrong on Saturday?
Underdog Performance(s) of the Race
Brennan Poole finally got his first top 10 of the year after coming close on a few occasions. Blake Koch also had a respectable 16th-place finish (give some credit back to the FOX crew for interviewing him after the race).
Double Duty Interlopers
Keselowski tried to get off sequence late in the race, hoping to defeat Busch with pit strategy. The No. 22 team, however, did not get the caution they needed to shake up the field, leaving Keselowski with a ninth-place finish. Two other Sprint Cup regulars, Chase Elliott and Austin Dillon, finished in fifth and seventh, respectively. XFINITY regulars Ty Dillon and Joey Gase, who finished 33rd, will also run Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.
“It’s fun to come race here (in the XFINITY Series) and participate, I learn a lot and I do that for a reason – in order to try to make myself better on Sundays.” –Kyle Busch after his third consecutive win
“(This is the) first time we really got a fair shot to race against Kyle this year, but we’ve got really fast Camrys, and it shows every week now with a couple of 1-2-3 finishes.” –Second place finisher Erik Jones, who did not have to serve an early pit road penalty for the first time in three weeks
“We took two tires on that first stop, and it just kind of hurt us when we had to take the green flag pit stop.” –Fourth-place finisher Justin Allgaier, who ran in the top three late but took four tires on a late pit stop when some others took two
“Everybody’s working really hard, it’s not due to a lack of effort, they’re definitely doing a good job at the shop and trying to make gains.” –Fifth-place finisher Chase Elliott on trying to keep up with the JGR drivers
“Holy cow, we were fast on long runs, we just gotta work on our short run speed before we come back, we were one of the fastest cars here after 15 or 20 laps, but restarts hurt us a little bit.” –Eighth-place finisher Elliott Sadler
The Final Word
Another week, and another dominant performance by Busch. Strong results and wins for Busch in the XFINITY Series are nothing new, but he has become the biggest storyline in a season that, with the addition of the XFINITY Chase, was supposed to put series regulars back in the spotlight. There is a lot of racing left to go, and the XFINITY drivers will hopefully take center stage once the championship battle really takes shape in September. However, winning one of the next 22 races looks like it will be a herculean task for any XFINITY regular, especially if Kyle Busch is in the field.
The problem is not so much about the number of Cup drivers anymore, it is about the quality of the Cup drivers and teams. There were four Cup Series regulars in this race. In the then Busch Series race at Phoenix in 2006, there were over three times that number. NASCAR made a good decision in 2011 by limiting drivers to one series in which they can earn points, preventing Cup drivers from winning the XFINITY championship. Yet the Sprint Cup drivers who do continue to compete with Sprint Cup teams remain the heavy favorites on race day. If NASCAR wants to make the win-and-you’re-in aspect of the XFINITY Chase have any real meaning, outside of an occasional upset, further changes should be in order.
NASCAR’s West Coast swing concludes next weekend at Auto Club Speedway. The XFINITY Series will run the TREATMYCLOT.com 300 on Saturday, March 19. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on FS1.
About the author
Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past six years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and aspiring motorsports historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southwest Florida.