Kyle Busch wins his first race at Talladega!
It appeared that Kyle Busch’s day was over. After being involved in a multi-car accident on lap 89 of Saturday’s Aaron’s 312 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, Busch’s No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota was a mangled mess, so much so that he was ready to take his car to the garage area so that his crew could load it up and get a head start on their trip home.
But crew chief Jason Ratcliff had other ideas. The veteran race-caller brought Busch to pit road where a swarm of Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) crewmen went to work on repairing the Z-Line Designs Camry. Quick and tenacious effort during a series of stops allowed Busch to rejoin the field without losing a lap. And with 32 laps remaining in a car seemingly held together with duct tape and sheer will, Busch rallied his way to the front with JGR teammate Joey Logano pushing him from behind.
With a shove from Logano, Busch took the lead down the backstretch of the 2.66-mile oval and kept it when a melee erupted behind him that sent Mike Wallace’s car airborne. With NASCAR having already attempted to finish the race under green twice before, this caution provided the third and final strike. The race ended under caution with the field frozen just before entering turns three and four. Busch was clearly the leader when the caution flag waved, and after leading only three laps on three separate occasions – all before lap 36 – Busch was the leader on the lap that mattered most, allowing him to secure his fourth Nationwide Series win of the season and his second Nationwide Series win in a restrictor-plate race.
“That’s why you never give up,” said spotter Eddie D’Hondt as soon as Busch crossed the start/finish line.
“I got hit like three times on the left side and I thought it was killed. I said it was killed,” Busch remarked. “These guys did a great job putting it back together with great leadership from Jason Ratcliff. This Z-Line Designs Camry doesn’t look the best, but it was certainly the best right there at the end, especially with the guy that was pushing me.
“Joey was a great teammate today. Can’t thank everybody from the whole JGR organization. They guys on that ‘20’ car (Logano), they deserve to win just as much as we do right here. This is a team win and it’s cool to get it here. Finally, I won a Nationwide race here, so now I completed the sweep at Talladega. It’s cool to run the Nationwide Series. I love doing it and love winning, too.”
Prior to Saturday, Busch’s best Nationwide Series result at Talladega was a third-place finish in 2006. While winless in Nationwide Series competition, he did have two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories (October 2009 and October 2010) and one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win (April 2008).
“We had a steady racecar,” Busch said. “It was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and getting the right push when it mattered most. Fortunately, we got it there with Joey. We were kind of working with some other people throughout the day just to see what we could figure out and what we could learn. When it came down toward the end, it was really good for us to get teamed up and for us to try to keep getting in each other’s lane so we could get the push draft going as soon as we could after the restarts.”
“I was committed to pushing him and we were going to get all the way to the front one way or the other, and then battle it out to the checkered flag,” Logano said. “But the caution came out there at the end, and all I know is I saw a car go upside down in my mirror. We were beating the heck out of these poor cars. I got hit in the door, the A-post is falling apart, the bumper is falling off every car – it was crazy out there.”
“This Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry was awesome today,” Busch added. “We had the wreck on the backstretch and I thought we were done. I said, ‘The only reason I’m going to stop is because you guys are before the garage area.’ I stopped and these guys said we could fix it. They detailed it up for me and gave it a spit shine and threw some duct tape on it and let her eat. Fortunately, it was still fast enough to where we could run up front.”
“Out of all the race tracks you go to, this place and Daytona, you spend so much time getting the bodies right, straight, and you look at this thing and you can’t believe it can even run minimal speed,” said Ratcliff as he surveyed the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota from his perch in victory lane. “Great job by the guys on pit road. Came in there, three corners were knocked off of it, the crush panels were falling out of it – it was a mess. They did a great job of orchestrating the repairs to keep from losing a lap.
“Like Kyle said, you have to have a teammate and, thankfully, Joey was committed there at the end to stand behind us and push us. He felt comfortable there and that’s the only way we were going to win it. Thanks to those guys and the ‘20’ team for their hard work. If they didn’t have a fast racecar then we wouldn’t have won it either. It was a total team effort.
“This is the ugliest racecar we’ve ever had in victory lane. To think you could do it at a restrictor-plate race – maybe it’s a new car thing. Maybe we need to come down pit road next time on the first stop and knock all the fenders off of it and be done with it. Fun day.”
Busch now has 92 victories across NASCAR’s top three divisions (Sprint Cup – 20; Nationwide – 47; Camping World Truck – 25). He is now just three wins shy of breaking the all-time Nationwide Series win record of 49, currently held by Mark Martin.
Logano came home second to give JGR a 1-2 finish, while Brian Scott, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry for JGR, finished 11th. Both drivers overcame incidets and car damage earlier in the race to post these impressive finishes.
Veteran Joe Nemechek secured third place, while Brad Keselowski and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top-five. Trevor Bayne, Justin Allgaier, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Reed Sorenson and Aric Almirola comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were 11 caution periods for 38 laps, with 16 drivers failing to finish the 124-lap race, which was extended seven laps past its originally scheduled distance by a green-white-checkered finish.
There was a record 56 lead changes, besting the previous Nationwide Series record of 36 lead changes set at Talladega on April 28, 2007.
The next event on the Nationwide Series schedule is the April 23 Nashville 300 at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway. The race starts at 3 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 2 p.m.