All Kyle Busch at Phoenix on Saturday. (LAT photo)
Don’t bet against Kyle Busch when he races at Phoenix. Don’t bet against him when he wins the pole for a NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
Kyle Busch did both on Saturday, and blew away the opposition to win his sixth race at the one-mile flat track in the Sonoran desert.
The driver of the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota finished the ServiceMaster 200 more than four seconds ahead of race runner-up Justin Allgaier, who passed series leader Austin Dillon for the second position on the final lap. Dillon held third, followed by Regan Smith and Sam Hornish Jr., whose deficit to Dillon in the championship battle grew from six to eight points.
Busch led 169 laps en route to his 12th NASCAR Nationwide Series victory in 25 starts this season. Busch extended his series record for wins in the series to 63. The pole was Busch’s 10th of the season — on nine occasions this season, he has converted the top starting spot into a victory.
“It was certainly a great day for us,” Busch said. “It’s a testament to (crew chief) Adam Stevens and the group of guys that he’s got around us that do such a great job for us and work real hard and give us some great equipment.”
With a bold move from the outside lane, Brad Keselowski powered past Busch into the lead after a restart on lap112, but the tenure of the No. 22 Ford at the front of the field was short-lived.
Busch, who slipped to third on the restart lap, regained the second spot on lap117, overtaking Harvick for the position. Three laps later, Busch and Keselowski were side-by-side at the start/finish line, with Busch nosing ahead as the cars crossed the stripe.
Busch began to inch away over the next 10 laps before Brad Sweet’s spin in Turn 3 brought out the third caution of the race on lap130. Diverging strategies scrambled the running order as five drivers — Bayne, Hornish, Allgaier, Smith and Scott — opted not to pit under the yellow, leaving Busch to take the green from the sixth spot on fresh right-side tires.
Four more cautions followed in short order — in a race that had run under green for 100 laps between the first two yellows — and allowed Busch to pick off the cars running on old tires. Shortly after a restart on lap154, he passed Allgaier for the lead.
“When we got back in traffic there, the restarts just worked out perfectly for me,” Busch said. “We went green, I picked off a spot, we went yellow. We went green, I picked off one or two more spots, we went yellow.
“So every time I just kept picking off a car, and the caution would come out, so it would just re-bunch the field and give me another opportunity, instead of having it spread and take more to get back to the front. So it worked out real well for us in that situation.”
Twelve laps before Busch made the winning pass, a tap from Scott’s Chevrolet had knocked Keselowski’s Ford into the Turn 3 wall in an accident that had serious implications for the owners’ championship. Entering the race, the No. 22 led the No. 54 Toyota driven by Busch by 26 points, but Keselowski’s wreck, coupled with Busch’s win, trimmed the margin to four points with one race left.