KANSAS CITY, Kan.—Kyle Busch won the lottery on Saturday afternoon—the Kansas Lottery 300, to be precise.
But it must have seemed like a huge jackpot for the driver of the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, who won a NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway for the first time since 2007.
“Whoo! We won at Kansas,” Busch radioed as he crossed the finish line, with as much relief as elation in his voice.
It took Busch 19 circuits after a restart on Lap 161 to catch and pass runner-up Kevin Harvick. On Lap 180, Busch ducked down to the apron near the start/finish line and powered past Harvick into the lead.
From that point, Busch pulled away for his sixth Nationwide Series victory of the season and the 69th of his career, extending his own series record.
The Kansas drought broken, Busch was already thinking about Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, the first race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Contender Round. Never having scored a top-five in a Cup race at Kansas, Busch will start seventh on Sunday.
“You learn enough here—there was a bit of moving around today and trying to run bottom and trying to run top and seeing where the different lines were in traffic and stuff like that,” Busch said. “I feel like our Cup car is OK. If we can get out of here with a top-10 day tomorrow that would be pretty good.
“Great effort by (crew chief) Adam (Stevens) and all the guys on this 54 car—it was really awesome again today and should have won at Chicago just like we did here today. Missed out there, but we just keep doing things right, and you end up in Victory Lane, so you have to have it all match up for you.”
Harvick had winning chances because his crew chief, Ernie Cope, played a contrarian pit strategy to perfection and got some help from a timely caution. Harvick was the only lead-lap driver to bring his car to pit road under the seventh caution on Lap 91, and that put him in position to wait out a cycle of green-flag stops with roughly 60 laps left.
With all other lead-lap cars pitting between Laps 136 and 141, Harvick was the only car on the lead laps when Dakoda Armstrong’s spin brought out the eighth caution. Busch, who was leading before the cycle of stops began, got the free pass as the highest scored lapped car, and the rest of the lead-lappers took wave-arounds after Harvick pitted for fuel.
Harvick led the field to green on Lap 153 but couldn’t keep Busch at bay on longer runs.
“They gave us a good opportunity with strategy there, (but) the 54 was quite a bit better as we got going into the run,” Harvick said. “We could hold him off for a short run, but in the end his car would maintain speed, and ours would slow down.
“We just got beat there today, but that happens.”
The race dealt a crushing blow to Regan Smith’s championship hopes. Smith spun and backed into the wall during qualifying earlier in the day and was forced to start from the rear of the field in a backup car.
On Lap 140, the sway bar arm on Smith’s No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet broke, and he took the car behind the wall for repairs, losing seven laps in the process. Smith finished 22nd and fell 38 points behind teammate Chase Elliott in the series standings.
Ty Dillon, third in the championship battle, ran fifth Saturday and is 40 points behind Elliott, who finished 10th, with four races left in the season.
“Any time you have to roll a backup car out two hours before a race, you have to expect anything to happen,” said Smith, who just re-signed for another year with JR Motorsports’ Nationwide program. “My guys did a great job of getting the car ready to where we could get to the grid with it, much less be competitive for the first stage of the race.
“We fought with it. It’s kind of what we anticipated for the day and at this point – obviously disappointed. It’s been a long year.”