Saturday 4th March was a great day for NASCAR fans, providing almost back to back footage, featuring: Qualifiers for the XFINITY and Truck Series, a practice for the Cup Series, followed by the XFINITY and Truck series races.
It was an even greater day for fans of Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing, when he managed to secure his second victory in a row in the Rinnai 250 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Atlanta.
In No. 18 NOS Energy car, Busch did well in qualifiers, earning himself the pole position for the race that would ensue.
Once the green flag was in the air, it wasn’t long before the 22 of Brad Keselowski managed to get into the lead. This was following a restart only two laps in, after a caution was brought out for an incident between the No. 3 of Ty Dillon and 11 of Blake Kock. Keselowski easily maintained this lead for the remaining laps, winning him the first stage, with Kyle Busch in 2nd, Kevin Harvick 3rd, Denny Hamlin 4th and Daniel Hemric 5th.
Things didn’t get much better for Busch at the beginning of Stage Two where he had a bad start, losing a few spots. A fight for the lead meant that Busch couldn’t make it to that top position, as Harvick led by four seconds and won the second stage.
Despite losing spots in the race off pit road after the caution that signalled the end of Stage Two, Busch managed get back to third. Hamlin had an unscheduled pit stop 20 laps into the stage, needing a tyre change due to a damaged tyre. 15 laps later, Hamlin then span out, bringing out the fifth caution flag for the day. Larson grasped the opportunity to obtain 2nd during the restart that followed the caution, before then going on to lead the race with only 41 laps to go.
After a pit stop with just 19 laps to go, Busch was able to win the race off pit road and stay in that lead position. “I can’t say enough about my pit crew,” Busch later commented. “They did an awesome job getting me off pit road first for that final run.”
Finally, Busch pulled away after a restart on Lap 148 of 163, and this is where he remained, winning him the third stage and the race.
Following his signature victory bow, Busch had time for a quick interview before getting ready for the Truck race. He thanked his new pit crew and crew chief – Scott Graves. “It took so long to get here to begin with,” Busch said in Victory Lane. “Now we’ve won two in a row. We weren’t great to begin with, and we weren’t great in the middle, but Scott Graves and the guys kept working on the car throughout the race and brought the No. 18 (Toyota) to life there at the end.”
The win didn’t earn Busch any points for the XFINITY Series, due to being a full-time driver in the Monster Energy Series Cup. However, his victory was worth five playoff points on the owner’s side to the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team.
Series regular, Elliot Sadler managed to cross the finish line in 5th position, making him the first driver out of the series regulars to finish the Atlanta race. The No. 1 driver had made incredible gains during the race due to starting way back in 22nd position.
Also in the top ten were series regular drivers: Darrell Wallace ‘Bubba’ Jr., William Byron, Austin Dillon, Daniel Hemric and Cole Custer, placing 6th – 10th. Bubba and Custer had made the most noticeable progress throughout the race, alongside Sadler. Earlier in the race, Bubba hit the wall coming off turn two, causing him to spin and lose some places. But with plenty of race left, he made a comeback, earning him 6th. Custer also managed to work his way up from the back of the field on lap 118 after a restart, due to a penalty for having too many men over the wall on pit road.
Following the Rinnai 250 NASCAR XFINITY Series, it was later announced that Busch’s car had failed post-race inspection as it was too low in the left front and right front. Due to not being an XFINITY Championship contender, Busch won’t be penalised as a driver. Instead, the team will not be able to use the win to be eligible for the owners championship playoffs or the five playoff points that go with it. In addition, Crew chief Scott Graves, could be facing a heavy fine or even a suspension.
Nevertheless, the victory was Busch’s 87th in 329 XFINITY starts, extending his own series record.