LOUDON, N.H. – Kyle Busch tossed his 2-year-old son in the air during his latest victory lane celebration.
He’s taking baby steps toward catching The King.
Busch dominated yet again to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
He won for the third time this season and 89th time in his career in the second-tier series. He has 175 career wins over NASCAR’s three national series: Cup (38 wins; 2015 champion); Xfinity (89; 2009 champion); and Truck (48).
“I know a lot of those are the minors, so I’ll take them where I can get ‘em as of right now,” Busch said. “But certainly there’s going to be a lot more wins to be had on Sundays, as well. I’ve got a long road ahead of me, probably.”
Richard Petty is NASCAR’s career leader with 200 wins, all at the Cup level.
Busch started from the pole and wasn’t challenged much late after an early duel with fellow Cup regular Brad Keselowski. Keselowski led 102 laps but had nothing for Busch down the stretch because of a pit road penalty.
“It is always fun being fast and leading the most laps and all that but we just didn’t put the whole race together,” Keselowski said.
Busch’s No. 18 Toyota was one of just six cars that finished on the lead lap.
Ryan Preece was second, followed by William Byron, Kyle Larson and Keselowski. Larson was scheduled to start Sunday’s Cup race from the pole until his car failed inspection and forced him to the rear of the field.
Series points leader Elliott Sadler was seventh in a race that included a 58-minute rain delay. He has a 45-point lead over Byron.
The 19-year-old Byron continued to drive like one of the future stars of NASCAR, earning his sixth top-five of the season. He has two victories driving for JR Motorsports and has made a case as a candidate to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports next season.
Earnhardt, long NASCAR’s most popular driver, left the team’s top Cup seat available when he announced he would retire from the series at the end of the season.
Alex Bowman, who ably filled in for the injured Earnhardt last season, is perhaps the top contender to drive the 88. But Byron and free agent Matt Kenseth are certainly in the mix – and the odds of landing at Hendrick improve if the organization decides to cut ties with the slumping Kasey Kahne.
Team owner Rick Hendrick watched the race from atop Byron’s pit box.
“He did a great job. Very impressive the way he works traffic and the feedback on the radio. Really good,” Hendrick said. “The guys are giving him good cars, but he’s got a lot of talent, and he’s a quick learner. He’s fast. He goes right to the edge in a hurry. He’s doing a good job. I’m real proud of him.”
Hendrick refused to tip his hand on a timetable for the 88 replacement.
“Too early. Man, this is just, what, July? Just July,” he said, laughing.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, the leader at Hendrick, has kept an eye on Byron’s rapid rise through the ranks.
“It’s fun watching him grow. At his age, I just don’t want to be in too big of a hurry,” he said.
Byron, who won seven Truck Series races last season, dismissed questions about his future.
“It’s good to be running like this. It feels really good for our team,” he said. “It’s cool to have Mr. Hendrick out here supporting us and everyone at JRM. It’s neat. It’s been a good couple of weeks. We’ve finished in the top 10 the last six weeks or something like that. It’s really something to be proud of. I feel like we’re able to build on that and hopefully take it to Indy and keep progressing.”
Keep progressing all the way to Cup?
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