NASCAR Race Weekend Central

XFINITY Breakdown: Kyle Busch Masters Reconfigured Kentucky Speedway

Kentucky Speedway underwent a few changes in the last year.  One thing that did not change, however, is Kyle Busch’s ability to put on a dominating performance at the 1.5 mile track.  Busch won the XFINITY Series Alsco 300 on Friday night, leading 185 of 201 laps.  He survived several late-race challenges from fellow competitors and picked up his 81st NXS win.

“Each and every week, obviously, this 18 car is always the best, always the one to beat,” Busch said.  “I think that’s just a true testament to everyone at Toyota and TRD, and this XFINITY Series program.”

Busch started on the pole and stayed at the front of the pack nearly the whole night.  He had few green flag challenges for the lead during most of the race, but Busch’s closest pursuers, Erik Jones and Austin Dillon, kept the No. 18 in their sights as the race progressed.

Photo: Zach Catanzareti
Austin Dillon after finishing second (credit: Zach Catanzareti)

All the NXS teams were keeping an eye on tires during the race.  As is typical on a recently repaved track, the tires did not wear like they usually do.  Instead, chunks of rubber popped off some drivers’ tires as they heated up during the course of a run. Reports of the phenomenon, called blistering, had teams on high alert, especially during a 112 green flag lap run during the middle stages of the race.

Busch had no major tire problems throughout the night, and it looked like he would sail to an easy victory.  However, Jones got the better of Busch on a lap 175 restart, roaring past the No. 18 on the outside lane in turns three and four.  Seconds later, though, a caution came out for Ray Black Jr.’s spin.

As the field circled the track under caution, Jones slowed down in turn three, so much so that Busch and Dillon rolled past him.  NASCAR deemed that Jones had not maintained pace car speed and would have to restart third.  The ruling put Busch back into the lead.  Jones struggled on the following restart after attempting to block Ryan Blaney and losing several positions.

Daniel Suarez jumped into second after the restart and stalked Busch in the closing laps.  On lap 195, Mike Harmon’s car dumped oil on the track, bringing out the race’s fifth and final caution.  Then came the overtime restart in which Busch, Suarez, and Dillon went three wide for the lead down the frontstretch.  Dillon ran even in the bottom groove with Busch for almost a whole lap, but Busch got the edge as they exited turn 4.  Busch pulled away on the last lap and secured the victory.  Dillon and Suarez completed the top three.

“Jones got me on that (lap 175) restart, then he kind of got back when his motor wouldn’t re-fire, trying to restart it there,” Busch said.  “Then that last restart, I heard ‘three wide’ for a second.  I’m like ‘how are we all gonna get through here?’  But I tried to give (Dillon) a little bit of room, then I heard ‘clear,’ then I turned down.  So it was enough exciting from my vantage point.”

Jones, who finished fourth, was frustrated by the penalty that cost him the lead.

“I fell back 20 feet from the pace car, no different than if you’re saving fuel, and they put me to third place,” Jones said.  “I guess I gave it away, but, you know, it’s unfortunate.  Good Reser’s Camry and not much to show for it.

“I wasn’t saving fuel; I was doing something else, just trying to get the best restart I could,” Jones added.  “Unfortunately, I hit the wrong button coming to get going again, and it put us too far back apparently for where NASCAR thought we should be coming to one to go.  We ended up being third on the restart, and it’s just hard to make up a lot of ground here in traffic.  So, not what we wanted, and it just didn’t work out.”

Suarez remains the XFINITY points leader by nine over sixth place finisher Elliott Sadler.  Ty Dillon, who fought back from a spin in qualifying to finish seventh, sits 19 points behind Suarez.  With ten races to go before the NXS Chase commences, Jones, Sadler, and Suarez remain the only XFINITY regulars who have won a race.

The Good

After making a controversial tweet one week ago that drew a $15,000 fine from NASCAR, Darrell Wallace Jr. had a much better race in Kentucky.  Bubba quietly worked his way into the top ten before opting to short pit on lap 153.  Fresh tires allowed Wallace to make up considerable time on the leaders.  He pitted a few more times during the late cautions and crossed the finish line in fifth, earning his third top five of the season.

The Bad

NASCAR seemed anxious to display the yellow flag Friday night.  The second caution of the race, which came out on lap 52, was for debris in turns 1 and 2 that the NBCSN cameras did not spot.  The third caution, which ended the long green flag run on lap 169, was for Ross Chastain lightly brushing the wall.  Brandon Jones was running behind Chastain and scraped the wall a little harder, so perhaps NASCAR thought that there was oil on the track.  On the other hand, Ryan Reed tossed a water bottle out of his car on lap 104, and Brendan Gaughan veered across nearly the entire width of the backstretch trying to miss it.  It seemed like not even NASCAR knew what should draw a yellow flag at Kentucky.

The Ugly

Justin Allgaier’s chances at victory ended when he pulled the No. 7 car behind the wall on lap 111.  Allgaier had a broken drive plate and the team needed to replace the left rear axle.  The repair job left Allgaier 19 laps down with a 31st place finish.

Underdog Performance of the Race

Not surprisingly, a race at an intermediate track with long runs favored the well-funded teams.  Blake Koch posted the best result of the underdogs by finishing 14th.  He continues to hold the final Chase spot, and he expanded the gap between himself and Chastain from seven points to 14.

Double Duty Interlopers

The Sprint Cup Series was well-represented on Friday night.  Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski took to the track in Team Penske Fords.  Both spent much of the race in the top ten, and Blaney climbed as high as fourth, but neither of them challenged for the win in the closing laps.  Blaney finished eighth, while Keselowski wound up tenth.  Meanwhile, Matt DiBenedetto exited the race after only three laps and finished 40th.

Two Camping World Truck Series regulars also joined the XFINITY racers, but both had forgettable nights.  Cole Custer, who piloted the JR Motorsports No. 88 Chevy, made contact with Alex Guenette on pit road on lap 53.  Custer sustained right front damage and lost his power steering, sending him behind the wall.  He would finish 63 laps down in 32nd.  Travis Kvapil struggled to a 25th place finish.

Quotable

“This is a new repave, and it was probably not one of the best races from the visual…” –Kyle Busch on how the race probably looked from the fans’ perspective

“It was really easy for the guy in third to make (it) three wide (on restarts), and that’s exactly what the 2 car did… I tried to block on the racetrack, and then he went to (the) apron.  I couldn’t go that far, and that’s normal.  That’s aggressive racing, that’s what we are here for.” –Daniel Suarez describing the final restart

“(The Joe Gibbs Racing cars) have been really fast, all three of them.  I mean, I’ve been saying we won the modified pole today, the three super modifieds up front…” –Austin Dillon on the speed of the JGR cars

“Track position meant everything.  We never really gave ourselves the opportunity to get back in it, and it started with me crashing in qualifying.” –Ty Dillon on his race

The Final Word

Friday night’s race felt like a flashback to some of the early-season NXS races.  The JGR cars started up front and displayed overwhelming speed.  There was a long green flag run during the middle of the event.  And Kyle Busch not only won, he destroyed the field.  After a pair of races that ended with unexpected winners like Sam Hornish Jr. and Aric Almirola in victory lane, Kentucky Speedway took fans back to more familiar ground, even though the drivers were faced with a new configuration.

Ten races remain before the XFINITY Chase begins.  Even though most of the drivers who are top ten in points have not posted wins, they do not have much to worry about Chase wise.  Even Allgaier, who lost a lot of points to his primary competition, is still 118 points above the Chase cutoff.  But what about Koch, Chastain, Ryan Reed, Ryan Sieg, and Jeremy Clements, who are all near the Chase bubble?  The pressure is only going to increase from here, but the payoff would be sweet for any of those drivers if they make the postseason.

Up Next

The XFINITY Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Saturday, July 16th AutoLotto 200.  Race Coverage begins at 4PM Eastern on NBCSN.

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