Kyle Busch found himself in a very familiar place on Friday night – in victory lane. Making his fifth start in the XFINITY Series this season, Busch rolled to his fourth victory of the year, leading 150 of 200 laps in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway. It is the 80th victory of Busch’s XFINITY career and third NASCAR win in a row, stretching back to his two wins at Martinsville Speedway in the Camping World Truck Series and Sprint Cup Series last weekend.
“We had to fine-tune and work on our balance a little bit, but overall, man this is so good and cool for all these guys,” Busch said from victory lane. He added, “We appreciate everyone pulling for us and what we were able to do.”
Busch had his usual share of challengers, but none of them could hang with the No. 18 over the long haul. Busch started from the pole alongside teammate Erik Jones, and the No. 20 was fast throughout the evening. However, problems on pit road once again derailed Jones when he was penalized for having crew men over the wall to soon. Jones, who entered the pits as the leader, was forced to the back of the field for the lap 83 restart. He worked his way back up to second but was never able to catch Busch.
On that same restart, Kyle Larson seized the lead from Busch. Larson led the next 38 laps before the handling on his car began to fade. Busch resumed command of the lead on lap 120 and never looked back. His only scary moment came on a restart on lap 152. Second-place Brad Keselowski got a big push from Ty Dillon, causing Keselowski’s No. 22 to get loose. The Discount Tire Ford nearly went sliding into the cars on the low lane, but Keselowski regained control and prevented a crash. The frantic restart ultimately allowed Busch to break away from the pack and build a comfortable lead over the final run. Keselowski, meanwhile, settled for third.
Daniel Suarez finished 16th and remains the XFINITY Series points leader, but only by one point over Elliott Sadler. Sadler received a penalty for an uncontrolled tire after pitting under caution on lap 102 and fought back to finish seventh.
Sadler’s teammate, Justin Allgaier, is third in points, trailing Suarez by nine. Allgaier made an unscheduled green flag pit stop for a loose wheel and lost a lap as a result, but he received the free pass during a caution on lap 79. Allgaier had raced his way back up to sixth by the time the checkered flag flew.
Allgaier’s gain was Suarez’s loss. Suarez had another good run going until he went spinning through turn 4, bringing out the caution that allowed Allgaier to get back on the lead lap. Unfortunately for Suarez, he was never able to get his lap back. His 16th place finish ended a string of 11-straight top 10 finishes that stretched back to last year.
The only major incident of Friday night’s race knocked out Blake Koch and Jeb Burton. Burton had a tire go down on lap 144, sending his No. 43 car into the turn 2 wall. Koch got swept up in the aftermath, and Ross Chastain also received damage. Koch and Burton were not able to continue; they finished 34th and 35th respectively.
Underdog Performance of the Race
Ryan Sieg raced his way to a tenth-place finish with his family team, beating several of the XFINITY Series’ big names. Sieg is currently 11th in points and continues to contend for a Chase spot.
Double Duty Interlopers
Texas tends to draw a lot of Sprint Cup regulars to the XFINITY Series, and Friday night was no exception. Nine Cup Series drivers started the event, as well as Ty Dillon, who will run the Cup race on Saturday night. Aside from Busch’s victory and Keselowski’s near crash, the biggest highlight may have been the spirited late-race battle between Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Elliott wound up taking fourth place while his car owner finished fifth. Auto Club Speedway winner Austin Dillon came home seventh, while Larson slid all the way to 11th. Aric Almirola finished three laps down in 17th, but that was better than Matt Dibenedetto in 32nd and Josh Wise, who completed only eight laps and finished last.
“I think some people, maybe a few years ago, wrote Chris Gayle off. We worked together last year, we won races last year, but to come out as strong as we have this year, this could have been five in a row.” –Race winner Kyle Busch, commenting on the strength of his crew chief and his team
“I thought we definitely had the car that could do it today, that penalty kind of put us back to the point where it got hard to make adjustments on it and keep up with the track… we just need to be that much better, and we’ll try to do it again next week.” –Second place finisher Erik Jones on the challenges of his race
“When you’re running the cars wide open, it’s like being at the local go kart track. Some cars are just faster than others, and we’re starting to get this one a little bit closer to being able to run with those Gibbs cars.” –Third place finisher Brad Keselowski on his team’s improvement
The Final Word
The first race at Texas was pretty typical of the 2016 XFINITY season. At times there was some good racing back in the pack and passing did not seem to be overly difficult. It was not a bad showing by Texas’ standards, but Busch’s march to another dominating victory will be what most fans remember. Busch was correct to credit his crew for keeping up with the changes in the track, as mid-race adjustments clearly made the difference in terms of Kyle vs. Kyle.
Busch’s talent is undeniable, and it is evident that Joe Gibbs Racing really did its homework over the offseason. The speed in all of the team’s Toyotas has allowed Busch, Jones, and Suarez to be strong right out of the gate. It is also fair to repeat the point that emerging drivers racing for teams with limited budgets really are not a match for the reigning Sprint Cup champ and his well-financed team.
However, it is time for someone to step up to the plate and challenge Busch. It is not a matter of telling the drivers this. Keselowski readily admits that his cars are not as fast as Busch’s, and the frustration in Jones’ voice after another missed opportunity is evident. But sooner or later, the burden falls on the other drivers to rise to the level of their competitor. If not for an ill-timed blown tire, Busch would have five wins in a row. He is good, but is he that much better than even his fellow Cup drivers? When the FOX crew spends the last 15 laps of the race openly begging for a caution and the chance for someone to challenge the No. 18, everyone understands that there must be someone who can stop the Kyle Busch Express. The problem is that no one has come forward yet.
NASCAR will debut the new heat race format for the XFINITY Series next weekend on Saturday, April 16th in the Fitzgerald Gilder Kits 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Racing coverage begins at 12:30 PM on Fox Sports 1.