If Kyle Busch seemed to take a bit longer to take his customary bow after a NASCAR victory, it was understandable. It’s nice to savor milestone victories.
Busch recovered from a spinout and a pit road penalty and survived a late restart to win the Zippo 200 on Saturday, his first triumph at Watkins Glen International in the Xfinity series. It also was the first Xfinity victory at Watkins Glen for Joe Gibbs Racing and the company’s 139th win overall in the series, breaking a tie with Roush Fenway for the top spot.
“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been so close so many times,” Busch said. “I knew I just had to not screw it up.”
Busch topped the Penske Racing duo of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski and easily beat them on a restart with three laps to go for his 90th series win. Watkins Glen International and Pocono were the only tracks currently on the Xfinity schedule where Busch had not won. He’s also won on every track in the Cup series except Charlotte.
Logano was second in his bid to win this race for the third straight time from the pole and Keselowski was third, followed by Justin Allgaier and Paul Menard.
Logano and Keselowski had dominated the previous two Xfinity races at Watkins Glen. In 2015, Logano led 39 laps, one fewer than his teammate, and they finished 1-2. A year ago Logano led 67 laps, including the final 27, for his second straight victory from the pole.
“Maybe one more restart and one of those green-white-checkered things would have been nice,” Logano said. “Overall, to start on the pole and be the runner-up doesn’t always feel good, but we did learn some things for tomorrow.”
Busch started second, quickly passed Logano for the lead and led the first 16 laps before wheel-hopping his No. 18 Toyota and spinning out on the first turn, a 90-degree right-hander that points downhill, on lap 17.
Keselowski won the opening 20-lap stage under caution and gained a big advantage over Busch, who drove through too many pit stalls (four) during his first pit stop and was penalized. He restarted near the back of the 40-car field.
“You’ve just got to get through it, but unfortunately I screwed up early and I got us behind,” Busch said. “But the guys gave me such an awesome race car that we could make it back up.”
Menard gained the lead on a restart in the second stage and held it for the remainder of the segment, holding off bids by Keselowski and Logano with Busch surging back into contention. He was eighth when the third caution flew on lap 34 for oil on the track from Stephen Young’s smoking No. 78 Chevy.
Menard proved stout as he held off the Penske duo but lost the lead in the final stage when he accidentally hit the master fuel switch and the car lost power going uphill. Keselowski took over the top spot, then dived into the pits with Logano on lap 49 for the final time in the 82-lap race around the 2.45-mile road course.
Logano’s crew had trouble with the right front tire and a long stop dropped him back several spots.
Busch pitted from the lead on lap 54 and rejoined the field about 10 car-lengths in front of Keselowski, but they were far in the rearview mirror of race leader Brendan Gaughan. The suspense ended when Gaughan pitted with just over 20 laps to go, giving Busch the lead again, this time for good.
Busch lapped points leader Elliott Sadler with seven laps to go and had built a 2.5-second lead when Casey Mears ran out of fuel to bring out the final caution. That set up a three-lap dash to the finish and Busch easily sped away from the Penske duo and won by just over a second.
It was his second NASCAR victory in a week — he won his first Cup race of the season last Sunday at Pocono — and energized him for Sunday afternoon’s 220-lap Cup race at The Glen.
“I don’t know if I’m just in the groove or what, but it feels pretty good,” Busch said.