With the name of murder victim Zahra Baker of Hickory, N.C., on his No. 18 Toyota, Busch took the lead for the first time on Lap 128 of 134 and held off runner-up Clint Bowyer the rest of the way to win the North Carolina Education Lottery 200.
Busch crossed the finish line .317 seconds ahead of Bowyer. The victory was his third straight in the series, his fourth in six starts this season and the 28th of his career, bringing his aggregate victories across NASCAR’s top three series to 97. That ties him with Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip for third all-time in total wins across all three national series.
Baker, who battled cancer before her untimely death at age 10, came to Charlotte Motor Speedway in May 2010 as a guest of Speedway Children’s Charities. Baker was one of a group of underprivileged children who were given hearing aids at the racetrack.
Baker’s stepmother has been changed with her murder.
“I had an angel running with me that last run of the race,” Busch said. “We didn’t have the truck to beat tonight. The 2 (Bowyer) did. Somehow I found some more out of it, and I’m going to say that I had some help tonight.
“It’s weird how things work, but, man, when you believe in it and you trust it and you have faith in it, it’ll repay you.”
Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 Formula One champion, finished 15th in his NASCAR debut. Raikkonen started 31st but gained track position under the second caution of the race when he missed pit road and remained on the track.
Raikkonnen was about to make a green-flag stop on Lap 51, when Busch, his car owner, spun off Turn 4 to cause the fourth caution and put Raikkonen back on pit sequence with the rest of the field.
Cole Whitt ran third and took over the series points lead. At 19, Whitt is the youngest driver ever to lead the series points and the first rookie.
James Buescher came home fourth, followed by Ron Hornaday Jr.
Jamie Dick’s brush with the outside wall caused the ninth caution of the race on Lap 96, with Bowyer in the lead. Bowyer kept his No. 2 Chevrolet out front until David Starr’s Toyota smacked the wall to bring out the record 10th and final caution of the race on Lap 106.
Bowyer led the field to the green flag for a restart on Lap 112 but surrendered the top spot 16 laps later.
Earlier in the night, Busch beat out Bowyer for the pole position for Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race.
With 28 wins, Busch is tied for second all-time in the truck series with Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague.