As darkness enveloped Atlanta Motor Speedway, and rain pelted the windshield of his No. 51 Toyota, Kyle Busch patiently waited for word that he had sole possession of the all-time victory record in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
But, claiming the record-setting win wouldn’t be quite that easy. After the rain red flag, NASCAR chose to restart the race rather than call it. Five laps later, after parrying a determined charge from former series champion Johnny Sauter, Busch took the checkered in Saturday’s Ultimate Tailgating 200, earning his 52nd Truck Series victory and breaking a tie for most wins all-time with NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr.
“It means a lot,” Busch said. “It’s a big deal for me and a big deal for this team.”
The win was Busch’s fifth in trucks at Atlanta but his first there since 2009. Of his 52 triumphs, 16 came in trucks fielded by Billy Ballew before Busch founded his own Kyle Busch Motorsports team and added 36 race wins (and counting) to his total as an owner/driver.
With Ballew in attendance at Atlanta, Busch’s Toyota Tundra carried the former owner’s name on board.
“I had Billy Ballew on board with us here today,” Busch said after climbing from his truck, with mist putting a wet sheen on Victory Lane. “And Billy’s right over here as well. It took putting his name back on my truck to get me a win here, so we might have to make that an annual recurrence.
“I slipped getting out [of the truck]. It’s a little wet out here, in case y’all didn’t notice.”
Busch rued the fact that the race was not called as he sat on pit road under the red flag on Lap 121 with his teammate and protégé, Harrison Burton, holding onto second at the time. When the race restarted, though, Burton had the slippery outside lane to deal with and fell to eighth at the finish.
“I wish we could have ended it [then],” Busch said. “I would have rather had Harrison finish second. I’m not sure how far he fell, but he ran a great race today. It was cool to see the No. 18 right up there as well.”
The victory was Busch’s 195th, spread over all three of NASCAR’s national touring series, leaving him just five shy of his stated goal of 200 wins. (With 92 NASCAR Xfinity victories, Busch also holds the career record in that series.)
Sauter got to Busch’s rear bumper right after the final restart on Lap 128 but didn’t feel he could make a winning move.
“I just didn’t think I could get it there,” said Sauter, who has returned to ThorSport Racing for the 2019 season. “I’m bummed, because I thought I timed it right, and I was pushing him, but he was doing a good job of blocking, and I just didn’t think I could get there.
“It’s a good start, though. I’m happy with the effort. We just need a little bit more. When I go back and watch the replay, I hope I’m not kicking myself in the butt for not making that move to the top, but honestly, at that point I didn’t feel like I could get it done.”
Grant Enfinger, Sauter’s ThorSport teammate, ran third, followed by reigning series champion Brett Moffitt and Ben Rhodes. Ross Chastain and last week’s Daytona winner, Austin Hill, came home sixth and seventh, respectively.