Ten races into the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Kyle Busch has now won five of them. His victory on Friday night at Darlington, the track “too tough to tame” in South Carolina, brought his total in the series so far to forty-eight, just one shy of Mark Martin‘s record of forty-nine wins. Bear in mind that Martin has been racing in NASCAR since 1981, four years before Busch was born and the achievements of the no.18 driver are all the more remarkable. It is as good as certain that Busch will pass Martin’s record before the summer has passed.
Busch has traditionally been the man the crowd love to hate – and boo – but since his marriage on New Year’s Eve last year there has been some almost magical transformation that has subsumed the arrogant, temperamental and occasionally self-destructive driver into the assured, focussed and determined winner. In addition to winning half of all Nationwide Series races in 2011 Busch is one of only two drivers, along with Kevin Harvick, to have won more than one race in the so competitive Sprint Cup Series plus two wins in the Camping World Truck Series.
He is racing with a maturity which is either keeping him out of trouble or, at the very least, minimising the consequences of NASCAR’s rough and tumble and also with a consistency which must now be starting to alarm his competitors.
That consistency has spread across to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, too, with Denny Hamlin following Busch across the finish line for the second week in a row. Hamlin was over three seconds behind the 18 at the finish and felt his chances had been hindered by a multi car crash on lap 95. That seemed to overlook that he had caused the wreck on the backstretch by trying to run three wide through turn three and squeezing Clint Bowyer into Aric Almirola. Eight cars were caught up in the mayhem, three of them, Almirola, Mike Bliss and Brian Scott damaged beyond repair.
With qualifying washed out by a heavy downpour the starting positions were decided by standings in the owners points table, with Busch on pole alongside Bowyer whose good fortune was negated by missing a drivers meeting, forcing him to start from the rear of the field. Another consequence of the cancelled qualifying was a mandatory competition caution being called on lap 25 for all cars to check tyre wear, etc.
One feature of the track they call The Lady In Black is what is known as the Darlington Stripe. For a car to run competitively the driver has to run very high up the track, close to the wall. Inevitably most, if not all, the cars stray too close at some point during the race and give the cars the familiar Darlington stripe down the right hand side. Touch that wall with anything less than finesse and the consequences can be harsh as Carl Edwards found out. Having run in the top three for two-thirds of the race a heavy hit aginst the wall cost him dearly and he did well to finish the night in twentieth place with a car that was held together with strip upon strip of black tape.
Chris Buescher, who once again is deputising for Trevor Bayne whilst the latter’s mysterious illness is being investigated, was again in the running for a very respectable finish for one so young when a brush with the wall simultaneously with Josh Wise scuppered his chances early in the race although he fought back to eventually finish in seventeenth.
Third and fourth places in the race were taken by the first of the point scorers, Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier. Sadler is now just five points behind Allgaier at the head of the championship table with ninth place finisher Jason Leffler a further ten points in arrears. Despite finishing in tenth place in the race Ricky Stenhouse Jr. fell three places in the table so close is the competition there.