After winning the pole for both the XFINITY and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series events Friday at Kentucky Speedway, Kyle Busch was the odd-on favorite to win at one of his best tracks.
Winning is exactly what he did.
It did not come easy for Busch, as he had to play a different strategy to pick up his third victory in the Bluegrass State. On lap 130, Joey Gase blew an engine down the backstretch while Erik Jones was dominating out front. As a result, it looked like the race was going to come down to who would save the most gas.
Busch still led the entire final 70-lap stint of the race, holding off all challengers.
“It was pretty big,” Busch said of restarts. “The four tires certainly meant a lot for us as we were coming back through, catching those guys. It gave us the opportunity to stay out there on that caution when those guys came in and pitted… There wasn’t much rubber left on them [tires]. I gave it everything they had left for me.”
The victory is the 88th of Busch’s career in the XFINITY Series. It’s his second victory of 2017, also winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway in early March. Busch will be back in the No. 18 car next weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a race where he’s also the defending winner.
Whomever got to the lead at Kentucky ran away from the field, dominating that portion of the race until the next caution flew. However, back in the pack, the racing was above average for being a repaved oval.
Racing on a newly paved track can be tricky. But Kentucky left the bumps that were part of the old asphalt part of the new one, trying to keep that rough racetrack feel. Because of that, if a driver enters the corner outside the preferred groove, or hits one of those bumps, it upsets the handling of the car, leading to a lot of movement.
With some XFINITY Series drivers not having much experience at a track like Kentucky, seeing them try and learn the newly-paved oval was good racing. The competition should make everyone look forward to the second race at the venue in September, which is a standalone event.
This season, 1.5-mile ovals have been dominated by Cup Series regulars, which leads to a race of “who is going to be the best of the rest.”
Sure, Busch, Jones and Ryan Blaney were just about evenly spread in terms of laps led. But not only did an XFINITY Series driver not lead a single lap today, Byron was the highest finisher in seventh place.
Obviously, there is a reason why drivers are in the Cup Series, and yes, they should be better due to their experience. But when is an XFINITY Series regular going to beat a Cup driver outside of a restrictor plate race?
Through 16 races this season, essentially the halfway point, Ryan Reed and Byron are the only two to win with Cup drivers in the field. Both those events came at Daytona International Speedway, a restrictor plate race and NASCAR equalizer. The rookie phenom came close three weeks ago at Michigan International Speedway, losing by a nose to Denny Hamlin.
But what’s that saying about second place? It’s the first loser.
For as long as I can remember, Cup Series drivers have always dominated the XFINITY Series. Last year was an exception with Jones winning four races while Daniel Suarez and Sadler each won three.
But in 2017, we’re back to the rule. If you’re not competing for an organization such as Joe Gibbs Racing or JR Motorsports, and you’re an XFINITY Series regular, you’re racing for second. When the field is star studded, like it was at Kentucky, even getting a top 10 can be difficult.
For the first time in a long time, the caution flag flew as soon as the initial start of the race began.
Not even 100 yards into the Alsco 300, four XFINITY Series regulars saw their days go up in smoke as there was a stack-up before they entered the first turn.
It looked as though the front row of Busch and Jones failed to get going, or that the No. 18 car, the control vehicle on the restart did not start the race until the very last moment before exiting the restart zone. But that’s not what happened.
Like every single NASCAR race, the start of the race is not actually started by the NASCAR flagman. Instead, it’s dropped from an honorary person, usually someone that represents the sponsor of the race. However, this time the original flagman didn’t give the honorary flagman the cue to start the race, which led to the incident.
Busch did everything he was supposed to do because the initial start of the race is different from all other restarts. On every other restart, the leader has control of when to start the event.
The end result was Brendan Gaughan, Brandon Jones, Blake Koch and Reed all spinning, sliding, and crashing across the start-finish line as they were taking the green flag. It led to finishes of 23rd or worse for all four drivers and a long day at the office. For Gaughan and Jones, they were retired from the race within the opening 10 laps.
“That’s an example of why you don’t qualify in the back like that,” Jones said of the incident. “I thought we had a great racecar though. I was third in practice and finished second in the Truck race. It’s unfortunate. I thought we could have made something out of today.”
“It’s just an accordion deal,” Gaughan said. “It’s a bummer. We’ve been battling back into the playoff picture and we’re fast every week, but we’ve had a helluva year.”
Underdog Performance of the Race
The past two weeks have seen unfamiliar foes finish in the top five at Iowa Speedway and Daytona. This week, it was all familiar faces at the front of the field.
However, competing in his fourth consecutive race for Chip Ganassi Racing, Reddick finished 10th, picking up stage points in all three stages. After the first 45 laps, the No. 42 car was the highest XFINITY Series regular in fifth, while placing ninth in Stage 2.
Stage 3 was a bit of an adventure.
Reddick raced as high as fifth in the stage, but late in the race dropped as low as 15th. He then raced his way back up to 10th during the final stint of green-flag racing. It’s his third top-10 result in the last five races, dating back to Charlotte Motor Speedway.
On lap 130, the same lap that Gase blew his engine, Reddick smacked the wall, which led to him fading. The crew had to pull the right side fenders out due to the impact, but the No. 42 car still dropped positions on the racetrack.
The final caution of the event seemed to be the saving grace for Reddick as that’s when he hopped from 15th to 10th. Adding Kyle Larson to the mix, it’s the 10th top-10 finish of the season for the No. 42 crew.
Double Duty Interlopers
One word: dominance.
Outside of Busch, Blaney and Jones leading laps, Joey Logano was the only other driver to pace the field, doing so for one lap. These four drivers all came home with top-six results.
Harvick, making his fourth start of the season in Stewart-Haas Racing’s brand new XFINITY team, had an interesting day. The No. 41 car spent much of the afternoon outside the top five, but had the race gone the distance, he may have been in prime position as he was saving gas until the final caution flew with 33 laps to go.
Staying out during the yellow flag, Harvick faded to fourth, but picked up his fourth top-five finish of the season.
Ty Dillon rebounded from an early incident to round out the top five. Paul Menard, his Richard Childress Racing teammate crashed out of the event on lap 104 after ending the first two stages in the top five. The No. 2 car finished 34th.
These drivers will have a short turnaround to compete in tonight’s Quaker State 400. Busch is the pole sitter for that event and has won two of the six races held at the speedway.
“I didn’t really have a lot of fun but it was nice to have a good race car that we could pick our way through the field. We got it really good at the end.” – Ryan Blaney
“We did get better as the day went on but just missed it a little bit. We’ll learn for when we come back.” – Cole Custer
“We just got ko’d on lap one there. They brought us down really slow and took off and stopped again.” – Ryan Reed
Once again, Cup Series stars dominated, leading all 200 laps. It’s the first time this season that an XFINITY Series regular failed to lead a single lap of an event.
The new pavement at Kentucky, while above average failed to live up to expectations that NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series set on Thursday evening. As it is the first race of a doubleheader, it’s going to be hard for the track to do anything before the Cup Series race begins. Unfortunately, the last two races on the old pavement with the lower downforce package still created better competition.
The series heads to New Hampshire next Saturday, where Busch dominated last season, leading 190 of 200 circuits. In 11 career starts, Busch has five victories at the racetrack. The green flag is scheduled to wave shortly after 4 p.m. ET and can be viewed on NBCSN.
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.