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Kyle Busch thwarts Cindric with last-lap pass in OT, rallies for Xfinity win at Charlotte

In NASCAR’s new normal, with a Memorial Day race in a stretch of four national events in four days, Kyle Busch returned to the old normal — winning.

But for Busch to secure his record 97th victory in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the driver of the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota had to make a last-lap pass of Austin Cindric, who blew past Busch during an overtime restart in Monday’s Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Helped by a spate of cautions over the final 50 laps, Busch survived a pit-road speeding penalty and claimed his first Xfinity win of the season and his ninth at Charlotte. He won for the first time in five national series starts during a stretch of seven races in 11 days, as NASCAR has returned to action after a 10-week hiatus necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

After Noah Gragson’s No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet broke loose on a Lap 197 restart, igniting a five-car wreck and causing the 11th caution of the evening, Cindric passed Busch from the inside lane during the overtime restart on Lap 202 and held the top spot when the cars flashed across the start/finish line in front of the white flag.

Busch, however, pulled even on the backstretch, and cleared Cindric in Turn 3. With his momentum stalled, Cindric lost the runner-up spot to Daniel Hemric, who had come to pit road for fresh tires under caution with 21 laps left.

“Those guys put up a whale of a fight tonight on restarts,” Busch said afterward. “I was really surprised by that — I guess, I’m not very good at it anymore… Pretty cool to score a win here at Charlotte.”

Busch’s Toyota was the class of the field, but that didn’t prevent the Xfinity regulars from challenging the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion on restart after restart.

“It was interesting, and it was crazy,” said Busch, whose paint scheme featured the livery of Appalachian State University. “Earlier in the race, Ross Chastain gave me a hell of a run on a restart, and then right there, Austin gave me a hell of a run on that restart and I thought picking the outside lane would be the sure launch, and those guys would spin their tires down there and not get going.

“It might have been the 8 (Hemric) that helped the 22 (Cindric) stay alongside of me, and he was just able to clear me in (Turns) 1 and 2. Crazy how all that turned out, but really want to say congratulations to the 2020 class at Appalachian State. I know this year is a little different for your graduation and getting your diploma, but still there is a lot ahead of you, and use that as determination to get better like we did every single restart.”

Busch led eight times for a race-high 94 laps. Ross Chastain led 68 laps and Cindric 30.

A road-course ace, Cindric scored his two Xfinity wins back-to-back last year at Watkins Glen and Mid-Ohio, but he’s still looking for victory on an oval.

“It just didn’t work out for us,” Cindric said. “I was on older tires, and everyone else on older tires ended up crashing. It’s hard to beat the best in the business on older tires. I got a great push from Daniel (on the final restart). I’m shocked the restart zone went as well as it did. That was a big struggle for me all night. I knew I was going to have to defend in (Turns) 3 and 4 and took the top in (Turns) 1 and 2.

“He just had way more grip than I did. The heat cycles were killer. I never lifted driving into (Turn) 3 on the final lap. I just gave up second but didn’t really care at that point. I just wanted to win the race. Overall, it was a great night, and I’m really proud of my team. I came here with something that we have never come to the race track with. We had to work on it all night. It shows the strength of the team and I’m really proud of the effort.”

Still seeking his first Xfinity win, Hemric collected his sixth second-place finish in the series.

Behind Busch, Hemric and Cindric, Chastain, the pole-sitter, ran fourth and Justin Allgaier fifth. Brett Moffitt, Michael Annett, Brandon Brown, Sunoco rookie Harrison Burton and Myatt Snider completed the top 10. Gragson in 11th was the last driver on the lead lap.

Chase Briscoe maintained his status as the Xfinity Series’ points leader. He fought to stay in contention after a pair of pit-road penalties — one for an uncontrolled tire, one for speeding — but scrubbed the wall twice in the final stage and finished 20th.

The NASCAR Xfinity Series’ next race is scheduled Monday (7 p.m. ET, FS1, PRN, SiriusXM) at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Contributing: Staff reports