Winless in his own Nationwide equipment last year, Kyle Busch visited Victory Lane for the fourth time in six races this season, becoming the first driver in series history to win four of the first six.
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
FORT WORTH, Tex.—Kyle Busch continued to celebrate his return to Joe Gibbs Racing's NASCAR Nationwide Series program on Saturday night, winning the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Winless in his own Nationwide equipment last year, Busch visited Victory Lane for the fourth time in six races this season, becoming the first driver in series history to win four of the first six.
The victory was Busch's record sixth at Texas and his record 55th in the Nationwide Series. Brad Keselowski ran second, 2.272 seconds behind the winner. Austin Dillon was third, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick.
Contact between Sam Hornish Jr. and Jeremy Clements on Lap 141 changed the complexion of the race and eliminated Hornish, who entered the event as the series leader. From that point on, Busch had the dominant car.
Hornish finished 34th and kept the points lead but saw his advantage over Regan Smith trimmed from 28 points to two.
“It was a tough race,” said Busch, who capped a banner day on which he already had won the pole for Saturday night’s Sprint Cup event. “It was a good race, but we had to work hard to have a better race car throughout the race. Brad there was strong, and so was Sam, and it just sort of played into our favor there with some of the pit stops and pit strategy
“At one time, I thought I was fading way too fast, and I was like, 'Hey, these tires are terrible,' but we had to save 'em. We had to wait in order to put on our fresh tires there in the middle of the race. The car was awesome today.”
Keselowski had a straightforward assessment of Busch’s dominance at Texas.
“If you put an elite driver in an elite car, you should get elite results,” Keselowski said.
In a scenario that augured well for Saturday night's Sprint Cup tires, new tires made an enormous difference on Friday. In caution for debris on Lap 66, Keselowski, Hornish and Busch were among those who opted for fuel only, and those three drivers restarted at the front of the field on Lap 70.
Their stay at the point was short-lived. On Lap 73, Kasey Kahne, on new tires, passed Hornish for the lead. One lap later, Brian Vickers, also on fresh rubber, blew past Hornish into the second position. By Lap 90, Hornish had slipped to ninth, more than eight seconds behind Kahne.
The tradeoff was that Hornish, Keselowski and Busch each had saved an extra set of tires and they took advantage of the new rubber during pit stops under caution for debris on Lap 95. Kahne also changed four tires under the caution, leaving him with one set for the last half of the race.
After the restart on Lap 99, the roles were reserved. Hornish, on new tires, took the green in 16th and stormed through the field, wresting the lead from Matt Kenseth, who had stayed out under the caution, on Lap 107. Having lost several spots with a slow pit stop, Kahne overtook Hornish for the top spot on Lap 111, with Busch and Keselowski in hot pursuit of the two frontrunners.
Busch dispatched both Hornish and Kahne to assume the lead on Lap 115 before caution flew on Lap 120 for Robert Richardson Jr.'s second spin of the race. That shuffled the field again for a restart on Lap 128, with Keselowski quickly taking the lead, followed by Busch and Austin Dillon.
After Hornish's demise, by the time the lead-lap cars came to pit road under yellow on Lap 168, all contenders were back on equal footing, taking four tires for the run to the finish.
Note: There were 22 lead changes among 11 drivers, both Nationwide Series track records, breaking the marks of 17 and 10 from the spring race of 2005.