The most successful driver in the history of the NASCAR Xfinity Series possibly brought his career to an end with a victory, but not the way he wanted it to go.
Kyle Busch scored his 102nd career Xfinity Series win, and quite possibly his last, on Saturday at the Credit Karma Money 250 in Hampton.
The win, however, came in controversial fashion with a restart on lap 158. Busch was following Daniel Hemric on the inside lane on the restart, and in an attempt to push Hemric past the outside line, accidentally knocked Hemric out of the way, leading to an accident.
Hemric wound up finishing 30th after leading 45 laps in the latter half of the race.
“It’s not quite the win we were hoping for, a little bit of a somber win, I guess, not just for it being the last one but the way it happened,” Busch said. “I really hate it for Daniel Hemric on the front straightaway. I was trying to get to him, trying to push him, yeah, trying to hit him. We hit that bump on the track at the same time, that juked his car, and he was across traffic at that point.”
Busch said that late restart was “not how I foresaw that going.”
“If Daniel was 2 feet further to the left, nothing would have happened,” he said.
Regardless of the incident in the late-race restart, Busch was the class of the field for much of the race, leading 97 out of the 164 laps, including all of the 40-lap first stage and all but six laps in the 40-lap second stage.
Jeb Burton finished second, Noah Gragson was third, Justin Haley was fourth and Ty Dillon was fifth.
Busch said in the post-race press conference on Saturday that this will most likely be the last Xfinity Series race of his career.
“This is it. You never say never, but this was the last one,” he said. “We’ll hang it up and do something else on Saturdays.”
Stage 1: Busch dominates clean stage
The first stage was dominated by polesitter Busch, who led every lap en route to the stage win.
Busch led A.J. Allmendinger to the line to conclude the first stage. Harrison Burton was third, fourth went to Daniel Hemric, fifth went to Noah Gragson, Brett Moffitt was sixth, Alex Labbe was seventh, eighth went to Justin Haley, ninth was Brandon Jones and 10th was Austin Dillon, who moved up from the back of the field on the start.
Dillon replaced Michael Annett, who was a very late scratch from the race with an apparent leg injury. Per NASCAR rules, Dillon was required to move to the rear of the field for the driver change, and as a result, he had to give up his sixth-place starting spot.
The first stage was a clean one, free of incidents. One caution, a predetermined competition caution, came out at lap 20.
Stage 2: Busch recovers quickly from losing spots on pit road
Just like the first stage, Kyle Busch crossed the start-finish line first, but the story of his stage was slightly different from the first stage.
Following the first stage, the entire field came down pit road for routine service. Perhaps Busch didn’t get the stop he wanted, or others got the advantage they were looking for, but Busch dropped to fourth following his pitstop.
It took him six laps to get back to the lead.
Two incidents occurred in the second stage. The first one happened near the back of the field when David Starr and Matt Mills got together coming out of turn four. Starr drifted high and right into Mills, who was next to him on his outside.
Starr went into the wall, sustaining damage to his right-front corner as he bounced off the wall on the front straightaway, bringing out the caution on lap 51. The damage was terminal enough for Starr to retire from the race, and he was credited with a last-place finish.
The second one happened on lap 63 when Josh Berry spun out of turn four by himself. Other drivers took evasive action to avoid hitting Berry’s Chevrolet, but luckily, no other driver was collected in the incident.
The heat was on
Saturday’s race was run under very hot conditions, with drivers after the race drinking plenty of fluids and using cold towels to try to get over the heat.
Justin Haley, who finished fourth, said it was miserable in the Xfinity cars, which he called “the hottest cars I’ve ever driven.”
Haley said that his NASCAR Cup car will be easier on him, heat-wise, than the Xfinity car.
“I don’t know what it is about them, it just cooks you,” he said.
Ty Dillon, who finished sixth, said the humidity was what really bothered him during the race.
“I’d rather have 100 degrees dry in Vegas than 90 degrees in high humidity,” Dillon said. “That’s what makes it tough on the air that doesn’t really move around in the car. We really didn’t have maximum cooling for me in the car, so I can’t really say. I’ve had some hot races, and last week at Road America was really hot.”
Dillon said that, as a professional athlete that is paid to drive race cars for a living, he should be prepared for a day like Saturday.
“This is what I train for, so I dig these kinds of days,” he said.
Busch, in his post-race press conference, provided some insight into why an Xfinity car was as hot as it was.
“It’s warm, for sure,” Busch said. “The right-side window kind of heat-soaks the race car under yellow. Everything kind of cools off a little bit, but the first two laps under yellow are just really hot, because you don’t have the fast air taking all the heat out from under the car. The exhaust pipes are still hot, everything’s still hot, so you have to really bring all the temperatures down to get everything to cool off. So by the time you get a long yellow, it’s tolerable.”
Busch said a driver has to be mentally prepared for a hot race. He also said that some of his equipment, such as his cool suit, helps him get through times in a race car where the temperature in the cockpit exceeds 120 F.
“This thing is a lifesaver on hot days, so that helps, too,” Busch said.