HAMPTON, Ga. – It took Kyle Busch 13 years to get his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It took him one more year to get the second.
The pole winner at Atlanta for the sixth time, Busch pulled away after a restart on Lap 148 of 163 and beat Brad Keselowski to the finish line by .605 seconds to score his second straight victory at the 1.54-mile track in Saturday’s Rinnai 250.
“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 (crew chief) Scott Graves and the guys keep working on the car throughout the race and brought the No. 18 (Toyota) to life there at the end.”
Busch was first off pit road under the fifth caution of the afternoon after Kyle Larson, the leader entering pit road, nearly collided with Kevin Harvick, the dominant driver for most of the race with 64 laps led. The near-miss cost both drivers a fraction of a second—enough for Busch to exit with the lead.
“I can’t say enough about my pit crew,” Busch said. “They did an awesome job getting me off pit road first for that final run.”
The victory was Busch’s 87th in 329 starts, extending his own series record.
Both Larson and Harvick fell back on the Lap 148 restart and finished third and fourth, respectively. Elliott Sadler, who ran fifth in the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, had the best result among series regulars and leads the XFINITY standings by three points over Sunoco rookie William Byron.
Darrell Wallace Jr., Byron, Austin Dillon, Daniel Hemric and Cole Custer completed the top 10. Drawing a penalty for too many men over the wall on pit road, Custer restarted from the rear after a lap 118 caution for Denny Hamlin’s spin in Turn 1 but recovered to earn his top-10 finish in the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
The race was contested in three stages, the first two of 40 laps each before an 83-lap final stage. Keselowski, a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular, won the first stage, earning a playoff point for the No. 22 Team Penske Ford.
Harvick won Stage 2 convincingly, but his car tightened up in the final third of the race, as shadows covered Turns 1 and 2.
As a full-time monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, Busch is ineligible to earn points in the XFINITY Series, but his victory was worth five playoff points on the owner’s side to the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team.
The winning entry raced by Busch however, failed NASCAR’s post race inspection. The car had a height violation as it measured too low on both the right and left front.
Busch learned of the violation during the post race press conference with his Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Christopher Bell who won the Camping World Truck Series race that followed.
“I don’t know. I didn’t feel anything happen … over the course of the day,” Busch said. “I don’t remember what kind of adjustments we were making; I know we were going track bar down and wedge out so that should actually kind of lifted the front a little bit maybe but I don’t know how low it was or anything like that,” Busch said. “I haven’t heard anything. I don’t even know what the penalty is now.”
The winning car, as well as the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet of fifth-place Elliott Sadler, which was the random car, will be taken back to the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina for final inspection.
Any penalty or penalties as a result of the infraction are expected to be announced mid-week. Since Busch does not receive points in the Xfinity Series, any penalty will likely not affect him. Crew chief Scott Graves however could be facing a heavy fine or even a suspension.
NASCAR revamped its penalty system I last year and in the off-season. Under the new rules, Saturday’s win could be considered an “encumbered finish” meaning the team will not be able to use the win or playoff points to vie for the owner’s title in NASCAR’s season ending playoffs. Also most infractions are dealt with during a race weekend, although the most severe of infractions, which do include minimum weight and height are considered L1 and L2 and are still addressed after the race weekend.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Race – Rinnai 250
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Saturday, March 04, 2017
1. (1) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 163.
2. (3) Brad Keselowski(i), Ford, 163.
3. (4) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 163.
4. (12) Kevin Harvick(i), Ford, 163.
5. (22) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 163.
6. (13) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, 163.
7. (2) William Byron #, Chevrolet, 163.
8. (17) Austin Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 163.
9. (6) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 163.
10. (8) Cole Custer #, Ford, 163.
11. (11) Brennan Poole, Chevrolet, 163.
12. (7) Matt Tifft #, Toyota, 163.
13. (9) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 163.
14. (30) Brandon Jones, Chevrolet, 163.
15. (18) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 163.
16. (19) Corey Lajoie(i), Toyota, 163.
17. (14) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 163.
18. (10) Ryan Reed, Ford, 163.
19. (15) Aric Almirola(i), Ford, 163.
20. (5) Denny Hamlin(i), Toyota, 162.
21. (23) Dakoda Armstrong, Toyota, 162.
22. (28) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 161.
23. (33) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, 161.
24. (35) Harrison Rhodes, Chevrolet, 160.
25. (24) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 160.
26. (32) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, 160.
27. (29) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 160.
28. (21) Spencer Gallagher #, Chevrolet, 160.
29. (36) Ray Black Jr, Chevrolet, 159.
30. (16) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 159.
31. (37) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 158.
32. (38) David Starr, Chevrolet, 158.
33. (31) Timmy Hill, Toyota, 156.
34. (39) Chris Cockrum, Chevrolet, 156.
35. (34) Clint King, Chevrolet, Rear Gear, 139.
36. (20) JJ Yeley, Toyota, Engine, 128.
37. (27) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, Suspension, 76.
38. (40) Stephen Leicht, Chevrolet, Brakes, 24.
39. (26) Jordan Anderson(i), Chevrolet, Ignition, 2.
40. (25) Blake Koch, Chevrolet, Accident, 2.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 128.435 mph.
Time of Race: 01 Hrs, 57 Mins, 16 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.605 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 5 for 26 laps.
Lead Changes: 6 among 4 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Busch(i) 1-7; B. Keselowski(i) 8-42; K. Harvick(i) 43; B. Keselowski(i) 44-61; K. Harvick(i) 62-124; K. Larson(i) 125-144; K. Busch(i) 145-163.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): K. Harvick(i) 2 times for 64 laps; B. Keselowski(i) 2 times for 53 laps; K. Busch(i) 2 times for 26 laps; K. Larson(i) 1 time for 20 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: Keselowski, Busch, Harvick, Hamlin, Hemric, Custer, Byron, Larson, T. Dillon, Sadler
Stage #2 Top Ten: Harvick, Keselowski, Busch, Larson, Hamlin, Byron, Sadler, Custer, Hemric, A. Dillon