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KYLE BUSCH SCORES RECORD EIGHTH XFINITY SERIES WIN
By John Sturbin
Kyle Busch set himself up for a second consecutive NASCAR weekend sweep Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway with a dominant performance en route to victory in the 20th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts 300.
Busch, who swept the NASCAR Camping World Truck and Sprint Cup series events at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway last weekend, was equally impressive on TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval. Busch scored his series-record eighth XFINITY Series victory in Fort Worth after leading 150 of 200 laps _ including the final 81_in the No. 18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota Camry.
Pole-sitter Busch finished 3.055-seconds ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones, who rallied from a pit road penalty in his No. 20 GameStop/Turtle Beach Toyota in an attempt to repeat his victory in this event from last spring. Instead it was Busch who donned his eighth cowboy hat _symbolic of victory here _ during the post-race celebration with TMS President Eddie Gossage.
“I guess you have a spare one (hat) for every day of the week. It certainly is a good problem to have,” Busch joked after bagging his series-leading 80th career win in 316 starts. “We’ve had some really good runs here over the years and we’ve been really fast. This NOS Energy Drink Camry was great. We got our money’s worth out of it and Chris Gayle (crew chief) got his money’s worth out of it, too, on the pit box today. We had to make some adjustments to it and fine-tune on it to make it better and better. Real proud of the effort.”
Busch posted his fourth XFINITY victory and fifth top-10 finish of 2016. In addition, the 30-year-old Las Vegas native notched his 16th top-10 finish in 20 races at “The Great American Speedway.” Busch made sure that Gayle was recognized for his contributions.
“Working with this group of guys, I think some people a few years ago wrote Chris Gayle off,” Busch said. “We worked together last year and won races. To come out as strong as we have this year, this could have been five in a row. Certainly we’ve had a great season and he’s a great leader. The guys have done a great job following him doing what we’re doing.” (Click here for video of Victory Lane celebration.)
Busch, who scored his third win in seven days, now has 160 combined victories in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup, XFINITY and Camping World Truck series.
“I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but it’s certainly rewarding,” Busch said, “definitely being able to accomplish the things we’ve accomplished over the last seven days. Being able to score two victories at Martinsville and then to come here in Texas and get it done in the very next race, that’s what we look for and that’s what we’re here for. I think each and every event we enter, that’s what we try to win and try to do what we can and hopefully we can again tomorrow with our Interstate Batteries Camry. I feel like our car is pretty good, could be a tick better, but we had tonight to fix it.”
Busch, who averaged 141.121 mph in victory, will attempt to complete his second career sweep at TMS during Saturday night’s 20th annual Duck Commander 500, the first night Cup race of 2016.
Gayle, meanwhile, celebrated his first win at TMS with “Rowdy.”
“Obviously we’ve been on a roll to start this year,” Gayle said. “I think basically the two off weeks that we had, we talked a little bit about it, we’ve been good on the short runs all year long, but our long run had been kind of off. I wanted to try to have a good long run car and thankfully we were able to do that tonight.”
Jones, meanwhile, admittedly was unable to keep pace with his teammate. “It was a good run for us overall and a solid day,” Jones said. “Obviously didn’t have enough at the end. Some of that was from having to come back through the field and being able to keep up with the racetrack. That penalty (crewman over the wall too soon) wasn’t the reason we ran second by any means. We just need to do a little bit better job adjusting late in the race.
“We were able to get around him (Busch) on our second or third run there and then got the penalty. I didn’t think we were going to be anywhere close and got it where it needed to be. Second isn’t where we want to be, we want to be able to beat the No. 18 one of these days. We’re definitely the closest we have been.”
Brad Keselowski finished third in the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang with Chase Elliott fourth in the No. 5 TaxSlayer.com Chevrolet Camaro and Dale Earnhardt Jr. fifth in the No. 88 Goody’s Mixed Fruit Blast Camaro.
“It was a decent evening,” said Keselowski, who posted his 13th top-10 finish in 17 races at TMS. “Top fives I guess are pretty good, but we want to be a little bit better than that. Of course, we want to win and you look at the format the XFINITY Series has and winning is really all that kind of matters. I felt like we gave it our all, but we’re just lacking a little bit of speed to be able to run with the top two. On a positive note, we kind of closed the gap a little bit, but we still have some work to do.”
Busch was among only three race-leaders involved in six lead changes. Kyle Larson led 38 laps in the No. 42 ENEOS Chevrolet Camaro en route to an 11th-place finish and Jones led 12.
XFINITY Series point-leader Daniel Suarez’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 went awry on Lap 77, when his No. 19 Juniper Networks Toyota drifted up the track’s 24-degree banking in Turn 4 and broke loose. Suarez kept the car off the wall, but flat-spotted his tires during a half-spin down to the apron. He exited the pits 21st, one lap down to leader Busch. Suarez finished 16th, one lap down.
Over the previous three races, SuÃ¡rez had extended his lead from three points to eight to 10 over series veteran Elliott Sadler. Suarez, a native of Mexico, exited Texas with a one-point lead (207-206) over Sadler through six events.