HAMPTON, Ga. – As darkness enveloped Atlanta Motor Speedway, and rain pelted the windshield of his No. 51 Toyota, Kyle Busch patiently waited for word he had sole possession of the all-time victory lead in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
The record-setting win wouldn’t be quite that easy. After the red flag for rain, NASCAR restarted the race, rather than calling it. Five laps later, after parrying a determined charge from former series champion Johnny Sauter, Busch took the checkered Saturday’s Ultimate Tailgating 200, earning his 52nd victory and breaking a tie for most all-time with NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr.
“It means a lot,” Busch said. “It’s a big deal for me and a big deal for this team.”
The win was Busch’s fifth in the Truck Series at Atlanta but the first since 2009. Of his 52 triumphs, 16 came in trucks fielded by Billy Ballew before Busch founded his own Kyle Busch Motorsports team and added 36 races to his total (and counting) as an owner/driver.
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With Ballew in attendance at Atlanta, Busch’s Tundra carried the former owner’s name on board.
“I had Billy Ballew on board with us here today,” Busch said after climbing from his truck, with mist putting a wet sheen on Victory Lane. “And Billy’s right over here as well. It took putting Billy Ballew back on my truck to get me a win here, so we might have to make that an annual reoccurrence.
“I slipped getting out (of the truck). It’s a little wet out here, in case y’all didn’t notice.”
Busch, however rued the fact that the race wasn’t called as he sat on pit road under the red flag on Lap 121. His teammate and protégé, Harrison Burton, held the second position at the time, but when the race restarted, Burton had the slippery outside lane to deal with and fell to eighth at the finish.
“I wish we could have ended it (then),” Busch said. “I would have rather had Harrison finish second. I’m not sure how far he fell, but he ran a great race today. It was cool to see the No. 18 right up there as well.”
The victory was Busch’s 195 over all three of NASCAR’s national touring series combined, leaving him just five short of his stated goal of 200. With 92 NASCAR Xfinity victories, Busch also holds the career record in that series.
Sauter got to Busch’s rear bumper right after the final restart on Lap 128 but didn’t feel he could make a winning move.
“I just didn’t think I could get it there,” said Sauter, who returned to ThorSport Racing for the 2019 season. “I’m bummed, because I thought I timed it right, and I was pushing him, and he was doing a good job of blocking, and I just didn’t think I could get there.
“It’s a good start, though. I’m happy with the effort. We just need a little bit more. When I go back and watch the replay, I hope I’m not kicking myself in the butt for not making that move to the top, but honestly, at that point I didn’t feel like I could get it done.”
Grant Enfinger, Sauter’s ThorSport teammate, ran third, followed by reigning series champion Brett Moffitt and Ben Rhodes. Ross Chastain and last week’s Daytona winner, Austin Hill, came home sixth and seventh, respectively.