AVONDALE, Ariz. – How did Kyle Busch win Saturday’s IK9 Service Dog 200 at ISM Raceway?
Poof! His closest pursuers in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
Busch was out front on lap 130 when the engine in the No. 01 Chevrolet of Stephen Leicht exploded in front of Justin Allgaier and pole winner Christopher Bell, who were running second and third at the time.
Enveloped in a Days-of-Thunder-style cloud of smoke, Allgaier spun in the fluid from Leicht’s car, hitting the outside wall and damaging the rear of his car. Bell, the series leader entering the race, fared far worse.
His No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota backed into the outside wall, crumpling the rear of the car beyond repair. Bell exited the race in 30th place.
With his two most formidable challengers out of the picture, Busch led the field to the subsequent restart on lap 143 and stayed out front the rest of the way, beating runner-up Ryan Truex to the finish line by 3.025 seconds.
The victory was Busch’s 11th at ISM Raceway, tying him with NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Mark Martin for most Xfinity wins at a single track. Martin accomplished the feat at Rockingham.
Busch won for the second time in two starts this season and for the record 94th time in the series, bringing his total victories across NASCAR’s three national series to 198 and putting him within reach of his stated goal of 200 during the current West Coast Swing.
Three races remain before NASCAR heads back east to Martinsville. Busch will compete in Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at ISM Raceway before running both the Cup and Xfinity races next weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.
“Christopher was certainly going to give me a run for my money today,” Busch said of his JGR teammate. “I can’t say enough about the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing. Obviously, they build really fast Supras … Christopher, I hate he got caught up in that mess. Obviously, it was going to be a really fun run to the end there.”
Busch deflected the notion that he’s toying with the competition in the lower series.
“There’s a lot of talk and that sort of stuff, but if I’m allowed to enter a race, I’m going to enter the race and go out there and try to win it,” said Busch, who led 116 of the 200 laps. “If I win, I win. If not, we’ve got to go again the next time.”
Bell led 68 laps and won the second stage but fell to third soon after a restart on lap 101 and couldn’t advance. Then came Leicht’s engine explosion and the end of Bell’s race.
“As soon as I entered the smoke wall, I couldn’t see anything,” Bell said. “I lost my bearings of where I was and the next thing you know, I was in the wall. Frustrating and very disappointing, because our Rheem Supra was extremely strong.
“I don’t know, it was weird. My car didn’t really feel that much worse that run, but once I got back behind those guys, I just really couldn’t pass them.”
Truex started ninth, fell back early but worked his way back through the field in his first run in the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. After Bell and Allgaier crashed, Truex restarted second on lap 143 and kept reigning series champion and eventual third-place finisher Tyler Reddick behind him.
“I guess it’s good when you lose to Kyle Busch,” Truex said. “I just got us behind there at the start. I was too free, and I couldn’t run anywhere on the track, so I lost a lot of track position early. We worked hard all day to get it back.
“I got that restart behind Kyle and was able to get a huge run in (turns) 1 and 2. Our car was just so good on the long runs that I was able to hold Reddick off.”
For his part, Reddick inherited the series lead from Bell.
“I’m not very good at this race track,” said Reddick, who leads Bell by four points. “But hats off to RCR (Richard Childress Racing), they brought a fantastic Chevrolet. Our Camaro was great through most of this race. I honestly couldn’t give us a good sense of direction, so we just kind of threw in here what Daniel (Hemric) ran last year.
“Had a pretty good setup under this thing. Hopefully, I can figure out what I need to break through and contend with the 18 (Busch) in the end. All in all, it’s better than what I’ve run in the past. I’m just not very good at this race track.”
Cole Custer ran fourth, followed by fellow Ford drivers Austin Cindric (the Stage 1 winner) and Chase Briscoe, who fought his way forward after a pit road speeding penalty with an impressive closing drive. Brandon Jones was seventh, ahead of Daytona winner Michael Annett, John Hunter Nemecheck and Ryan Sieg, who recorded his third top-10 finish in four starts.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
ISM Raceway – Avondale, AZ
iK9 Service Dog 200 – March 9, 2019
1. (3) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 200.
2. (9) Ryan Truex, Chevrolet, 200.
3. (2) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 200.
4. (4) Cole Custer, Ford, 200.
5. (8) Austin Cindric, Ford, 200.
6. (12) Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 200.
7. (11) Brandon Jones, Toyota, 200.
8. (5) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 200.
9. (13) John Hunter Nemechek #, Chevrolet, 200.
10. (15) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 200.
11. (6) Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 200.
12. (10) Justin Haley #, Chevrolet, 200.
13. (14) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 200.
14. (7) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 199.
15. (19) Brandon Brown #, Chevrolet, 199.
16. (17) Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, 199.
17. (16) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 199.
18. (18) Ray Black II, Chevrolet, 199.
19. (20) Chad Finchum, Toyota, 197.
20. (27) Tyler Hill(i), Toyota, 197.
21. (25) B.J. McLeod, Chevrolet, 196.
22. (28) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 196.
23. (34) Vinnie Miller, Chevrolet, 196.
24. (21) Joey Gase, Toyota, 195.
25. (35) Mike Harmon, Chevrolet, 192.
26. (22) Josh Bilicki, Chevrolet, 189.
27. (30) David Starr, Chevrolet, 188.
28. (31) Matt Mills, Chevrolet, 182.
29. (32) Josh Williams, Chevrolet, Ignition, 173.
30. (1) Christopher Bell, Toyota, Accident, 130.
31. (26) Stephen Leicht, Chevrolet, Engine, 129.
32. (36) Ronnie Bassett, Jr., Chevrolet, Brakes, 61.
33. (23) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, Vibration, 59.
34. (33) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Brakes, 56.
35. (29) Tommy Joe Martins, Toyota, Fuel Pump, 49.
36. (37) Stan Mullis, Toyota, Carburetor, 35.
37. (24) Bayley Currey(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 30.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 100.897 mph.
Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 59 Mins, 30 Secs. Margin of Victory: 3.025 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 4 for 35 laps.
Lead Changes: 12 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Bell 1-34;C. Custer 35;A. Cindric 36-48;C. Bell 49-52;K. Busch(i) 53-57;C. Bell 58;K. Busch(i) 59-69;C. Bell 70-94;N. Gragson # 95;C. Bell 96-99;K. Busch(i) 100-132;C. Custer 133;K. Busch(i) 134-200.
Leaders Summary: (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led) Kyle Busch(i) 4 times for 116 laps; Christopher Bell 5 times for 68 laps; Austin Cindric 1 time for 13 laps; Cole Custer 2 times for 2 laps; Noah Gragson # 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 22,20,18,1,2,23,9,8,7,11
Stage #2 Top Ten: 20,18,2,7,9,22,00,39,8,11
Top 10 in Points: 1. Tyler Reddick – 169; 2. Christopher Bell – 165 (1 Win); 3. Cole Custer – 158; 4. Michael Annett – 147 (1 Win); 5. Brandon Jones – 147; 6. Austin Cindric – 141; 7. John Hunter Nemechek – 140; 8. Noah Gragson – 130; 9. Justin Allgaier – 128; 10. Ryan Sieg – 126.