LONG POND, Pa. — A new high-downforce, restrictor-plate competition package at Pocono Raceway brought a familiar result on Saturday — at least where the NASCAR Xfinity Series is concerned.
Overcoming a pit road speeding penalty that sent him to the back of the field for the start of the second 25-lap stage in the Pocono Green 250, Kyle Busch clawed his way through the field to win the 92nd race of his career.
What wasn’t familiar was Busch’s victory at Pocono. It was his first, in his second start at the 2.5-mile triangular track. And it was Busch’s first Xfinity victory of the season in his fourth start of the year.
Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was the clear class of the field. Only the penalty put the outcome in doubt. Busch grabbed the lead from pole winner Cole Custer on Lap 3 of 100 and held it through the end of Stage 1, winning that leg by 7.171 seconds over teammate Christopher Bell.
But both Busch and Bell were too fast on pit road during stops and Lap 28, and the teammates restarted 21st and 22nd on Lap 31. By the end of Stage 2, won by Paul Menard, Busch had climbed to sixth, and from there it was a matter of time before he returned to the top spot.
That happened when he stayed out under caution after Bell and Justin Allgaier, two of the top contenders, wrecked on the Long Pond straightaway on Lap 60 and exited the race. Busch held the lead from the restart on Lap 66 to the finish and crossed the stripe 2.521 seconds ahead of runner-up Chase Elliott, who was subbing for suspended Spencer Gallagher.
“The car was on rails this week,” Busch said. “It was last week, too (in an eighth-place finish at Charlotte), but we were just able to over the deficit we had this weekend (from the penalty) and bring it back to the front.”
Busch’s only worry was getting through heavy race traffic in his charge from the back to the front after the start of the second stage.
“You’re always worried about something crazy or an unpredictable situation happening,” Busch said. “We just kind of had to bide our time and be patient a little bit, kind of make moves when we could make moves…
“All in all, though, we knew we had speed in our race car, and it was really fast out front, once we got to those top five, top six cars.”
Daniel Hemric ran third, followed by Austin Cindric, Custer and series leader Elliott Sadler.
Busch got 48 laps out of his last tank of fuel. Elliott, who passed Hemric for second with one lap left, was hoping Busch’s Camry would sputter before he reached the finish line.
“We came in to top off (on Lap 58),” Elliott said. “We wanted to be on the good side of fuel, and I was hoping these guys would push it a little too close. … But it was a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to the next one.”
Bell and Allgaier were victims of the Lap 60 crash that started with Sadler pushing Allgaier up the straightaway between Turns 1 and 2 in close quarters with the No. 28 Ford of Dylan Lupton. Contact between the cars of Lupton and Allgaier turned Allgaier’s Chevrolet toward the wall, where he collected Bell’s Toyota in the process. Both cars were damaged too severely to continue.
“I just made a mistake there whenever I followed Kyle (Busch) to Pit Road at the end of the first stage, Bell said. “He was going really fast, and I thought I could, too. And I just ended up speeding.
“There was nothing I could have done there with Justin, for that matter. We were just victims of Pocono restarts. It just got really hairy. It was exciting. That’s why sometimes we love it and sometimes we hate it.”
Sadler retained the series lead by 62 points over Custer in second and 63 over Hemric in third.