- Busch gets first Darlington win
- One win from tying Martin's record
Busch Inches Closer to Nationwide Series History
Darlington Victory Puts Z-Line Designs Driver Within One Win of Martin’s Career Record
Kyle Busch’s pursuit of NASCAR Nationwide Series history took a major step forward as the driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) took charge of Saturday night’s Royal Purple 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in the late going and then cruised to his 48th career Nationwide Series victory.
The win, which came via an impressive 3.677-second margin over JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, put the 26-year-old Busch just one win away from the Nationwide Series record of 49 career victories held by veteran Mark Martin. It was the fifth Nationwide Series victory of the season for Busch and his first career Nationwide Series win in eight races at Darlington, where the 52-year-old Martin visited victory lane eight times in 29 Nationwide Series starts – second only to his 11 career wins in 25 career Nationwide Series starts at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway.
“I just can’t thank Z-Line Designs enough,” said Busch from victory lane. “These guys do an awesome job for us – Jim and Monica (Sexton, Z-Line Designs president and his wife) here with us tonight, and Toyota, and Joe Gibbs Driven Racing Oil. We love racing here. It’s fun, we love it. We wouldn’t be able to do it without those guys, most importantly this team. Jason Ratcliff (crew chief) and the guys brought me an awesome racecar. They did such an awesome job for me. All we had to do was bide our time a little bit and see how it shook out.”
In the end, it all shook out just fine for Busch and the Z-Line Designs team. But, it didn’t necessarily look like it would for the lion’s share of the 147-lap race.
It seems to be my best style here at Darlington – beat it up as much as you can and see if you can win with it.
With the afternoon qualifying session getting washed out by rain, Busch started from the pole by virtue of his fastest lap in the morning’s two-hour practice session, per new NASCAR rules for the 2011 season. But after the green flag flew for the race, Busch and the Z-Line Designs crew saw their share of minor, but significant, struggles in the early going. Busch had trouble getting his racecar to turn during the opening run, which saw him drop quickly from first to third behind Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne by lap 18.
After track bar and wedge adjustments during the first round of pit stops under caution on lap 27, Busch quickly drove himself into the lead when the race restarted on lap 31. He held the point by a comfortable margin until Edwards slipped past him heading into turn one on lap 54 as handling issues returned. That prompted the team to make similar adjustments to the ones it made during the first stop when Busch pitted under caution on lap 76.
Busch resumed in third place but reported a vibration from the rear of the car shortly thereafter. He dropped out of the top-three for the first time all night on lap 80, then pitted a third time on lap 91 under another caution so the crew could take its time to investigate the cause of the vibration before sending Busch on his way. With several other competitors having taken on just two tires, Busch dropped all the way back to 14th place. But he was able to immediately pick up five spots – elevating him to ninth place – when he slipped past several cars on the lap-94 restart just as a multi-car accident happened in front of him.
Busch’s Camry did not emerge unscathed as it made its way through the melee, having made contact with JGR teammate Brian Scott from behind with nowhere else to go. And he made contact several times with the legendary red-striped Darlington wall with the right side of his Camry. Nonetheless, Busch found the race was coming to him as the closing laps approached.
“It seems to be my best style here at Darlington – beat it up as much as you can and see if you can win with it,” said Busch, who finished second in last year’s Nationwide Series race at Darlington to Hamlin in a two-car Z-Line Designs entry. “We didn’t mean to. There was that one run there that we all started getting tight and it kind of came out, unexpectedly, and I drove it out into (turn) three one time and it didn’t stick and went right into the fence.
“I love coming to Darlington and it’s a really tough, treacherous place for me. We kind of proved that because the right side doesn’t look so great, but we still were able to win today. I just can’t say enough about this team. It’s cool to be here in victory lane – my first time in the Nationwide Series here in Darlington – so this feels pretty good.”
When the race restarted a final time on lap 103 after track workers cleared the aftermath of the multi-car accident, Busch was on the move. He moved from ninth to the top-five by lap 108, the top-three by lap 112, and second place by lap 116 behind race-leader Elliott Sadler. Busch chased Sadler for several laps before finally making his way by for the lead on lap 124.
It goes to Jason (Ratcliff) and the guys who make smart calls and put something fast underneath me every week.
“I was taking my time and being patient,” Busch said. “I got there kind of fast and, when I did, I made a move through (turns) three and four and my car was just too tight around the bottom line. It overheated the right-front tire, so I just got back in line and waited a couple more turns and was just seeing if I could get Elliott to bobble or make a mistake, and it would be easier on me to get by him. I was just waiting. He got slowed up with a lapped car off of turn two and I kind of built a run through (turns) one and two and got to his inside down the back and was able to clear him into (turn) three. It was a good race, there, for a little bit and kind of interesting. I did try once and then I just waited because there was still time and still laps left. I was trying to make sure I got by him before Denny (Hamlin) got too close. I figured if we had a three-way battle that sometimes, when there are two cars racing, it just leaves room for the third car to just blow by the both of them. We see momentum carry guys by you so easily here, sometimes.”
Once Busch got by Sadler, he methodically clicked off the final 23 laps without a threat from behind and also clicked off his first career win at “The Track Too Tough to Tame.”
“It is special because it’s so tough and so demanding,” said Busch of the mystique of Darlington Raceway. “To beat the guy we beat tonight –Denny Hamlin – that’s pretty cool, too. We had a flawless racecar today. It was really awesome. The guys did a really good job working on it in practice this morning. We made some changes that made it better, which made it a better racecar than what Denny had today. It goes to Jason (Ratcliff) and the guys who make smart calls and put something fast underneath me every week.”
Busch now has 95 victories across NASCAR’s top three divisions (Sprint Cup – 21; Nationwide – 48; Camping World Truck – 26).
Scott, driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry for JGR, fended up 29th after getting caught up in the multicar accident on lap 94.
Sadler finished a distant third, while Justin Allgaier and Steve Wallace rounded out the top-five. Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorensen, Jason Leffler and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were five caution periods for 28 laps, with 18 drivers failing to finish.