Joe Jennings, NASCAR correspondent
Kurt Busch staved off a late-race charge by hometown driver Denny Hamlin to win the Virginia 529 College Savings Nationwide Series race at the Richmond International Raceway on Friday evening. The margin of victory was a scant .062 seconds, for the closest Nationwide finish ever at Richmond.
Winner Busch drove the Monster Energy Toyota fielded by his brother Kyle’s team, Kyle Busch Motorsports. The victory was the first for KBM and the family celebrated vigorously in victory lane. Kurt Busch took his fourth Nationwide Series win.
“It is great to get to victory lane as a family,” the winner said. “To see what Kyle has put together and to be able to win like we have is special. This is a solid finish for us tonight. To be able to deliver in the NASCAR world for Kyle and our sponsor is special, and I am stoked. This has been a great day.”
I went to the outside and thought I could hold off Denny if he raced me clean.
Regarding the late-race action, Busch stated, “With 20 laps to go, I thought we had it in the bag. When he (Hamlin) got under a second, there were no more updates from the pits, and I decided not to look in the mirror.”
Busch went on to say he learned a lesson losing an IROC race here to Mark Martin a few years back. “Mark (Martin) got to victory lane because of being on the outside, so I decided to do the same thing,” he noted. “I went to the outside and thought I could hold off Denny if he raced me clean. I knew he wanted to race me that way, but it was hard to hold off a hometown driver.”
Commented a thrilled Kyle Busch, “It means a lot to win in the truck ranks and now in the Nationwide ranks. Winning at this level is very hard. This is a special occasion for me, KBM and Monster Energy, and I hope I can back it up tomorrow.”
Crew chief Mike Beam commented, “Everyone on this team has worked so hard. It has been a tough six races before this. We have been building cars and taking care of problems. I am just glad we have gotten our first win out of the way.”
Busch ran at the front throughout, trailing the dominant car of Kevin Harvick in the early going. Once Harvick’s Fast Fixin’ Chevrolet started falling off, Busch took over, leading the final 29 laps.
But Busch’s lead was short-lived as Hamlin was storming back from a botched pit stop to contend for the lead. On an earlier stop, Hamlin missed his pit box and had to go-around the track before stopping. In doing so, he fell from the front to 25th. Once back on the track, he blazed around the track catching everyone except for Busch.
Hamlin challenged Busch over the final laps, pulling alongside with the two cars gently coming together as the pair took the checkered flag, thrilling the crowd on hand.
Said Hamlin, “It was close; another lap or corner might have made it different. I had the position I wanted on him going into turn 1 on the last lap. He held us down just enough that was getting my car too loose. Some people steer right and get the other guy out of the groove, but I had come from too far back to do it on cheap shot at end.
“I messed up in pits and missed my stall, so if I was going to win it, I was going to win it fair.”
After having the dominant car and leading 158 laps, Harvick slipped to third place at the end. “After 15 or 25 laps, my car would lose our advantage, and the car would fall off,” Harvick said with dejection very apparent.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. garnered fourth place in the Cargill/Blackwell Angus Ford and Sam Hornish Jr. put the Wurth Dodge into fifth place.
Sixth through 10th place finishers were Elliott Sadler, teenager Ryan Blaney, Michael Annett, Austin Dillon and Jeff Green.
Blaney, a third-generation driver, was making his Nationwide Series debut and he got as high as fourth at one point in the race. “The biggest thing I learned is how patient you have to be in these long races,” the young driver said. “There was a lot of give and take out there, and I learned a lot.”
Danica Patrick struggled throughout and ended up 21st, one position ahead of newcomer Travis Pastrana, who did well in his Nationwide debut race.
Three caution flags slowed the race for 20 laps.