Coming to the white flag of Saturday’s TreatMyClot.com 300 by Janssen at Auto Club Speedway, a familiar narrative appeared to be unfolding. Kyle Busch had just led his 133rd lap of the 150-lap event, and appeared to be cruising to his fourth win in as many attempts in 2016.
Four turns later, seemingly out of nowhere, Austin Dillon drove around Busch on the outside to claim his first victory at the two-mile California track, and the first NASCAR XFINITY Series win of 2016 for Richard Childress Racing.
Dillon’s victory came at the end of one of the wildest laps in recent history for NASCAR’s second series.
Going into Turn 1, Busch’s largest fear was that he would run out of fuel. The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion would, like everyone else in the field, have to make his fuel stretch 49 laps to take the checkered flag. Teammate Erik Jones had run out of fuel two laps earlier, doomed from attempting to run with Busch throughout the final stint.
Busch could make it to the finish on fuel. However, a different issue arose.
As Busch roared down the front straightaway, his left-front tire suddenly exploded. Smoke billowed from his No. 18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota, and he was forced to slow to keep from wrecking.
Looking to seize the moment, teammate Daniel Suarez surged around Busch while going through Turn 2. However, his No. 19 suddenly slowed coming onto Auto Club Speedway’s long backstretch.
Just as he’d taken the lead, Suarez ran out of fuel.
Suarez began to limp his No. 19 around the track, but without fuel he quickly dropped through the order. Suarez dove to the track’s apron as he coasted.
Above him, a familiar face took over the lead.
Continuing to limp his car to the finish at pace, Busch regained the top spot. For a brief moment, it appeared the Joe Gibbs Racing driver might even hold on for the win, but coming through Turn 4, Dillon began to close on the No. 18.
Seeing Dillon closing on the high line, Busch slowly maneuvered his No. 18 up to the top of the track to block. However, he was too slow. Dillon drove past him coming onto the frontstretch, with Busch unable to do much more than bump the Richard Childress Racing driver’s No. 2 Chevrolet.
Dillon’s machine briefly jerked sideways after Busch’s bump, but he saved the car and gassed away to his first-career win at Auto Club Speedway.
Busch limped his No. 18 across the line to earn a runner-up finish, just .715 seconds behind Dillon and a fourth-straight win.
Darrell Wallace, Jr. took advantage of his Ford’s strong fuel mileage to earn a third-place finish for Roush-Fenway Racing. Suarez crawled across the line in fourth, with Elliott Sadler rounding out the top five.
Throughout the event, it appeared that it would be a JGR car, Larson or Ryan Blaney in victory lane. Things quickly went south for Larson and Blaney, though, as Larson fell victim to a flat left-rear tire, and Blaney fell through the field after contact with Erik Jones left his right-rear quarter panel swaying in the wind.
Jones ended the day in 15th after running out of fuel, five spots ahead of Blaney in 20th.
Saturday’s 300 miles at Auto Club Speedway took just 2 hours and 10-minutes, courtesy of only four cautions for 16 laps on the day.
With a Cup Series driver winning for the fifth-straight week, no XFINITY Series drivers have earned their place in this fall’s inaugural Chase for the series.
The XFINITY Series will return to action on April 8, when the field heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.
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