It was a day of major milestones for Kyle Busch, who tied Mark Martin for the career victory lead in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series with Saturday’s win in the New England 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The victory was Busch’s sixth of the season in 15 starts and the 49th of his career, tying Martin. At the same time, Busch, 26, won for the 100th time in NASCAR’s top three series combined.
“Happy 49—happy 100,” crew chief Jason Ratcliffe radioed to Busch after the driver crossed the finish line .304 seconds ahead of Kevin Harvick, who said warnings from NASCAR a few weeks ago had handcuffed him when it came to making the moves necessary to win the race.
Busch pulled away on a restart after contact from Steve Wallace knocked Joey Logano’s Toyota into the Ford of Trevor Bayne on Lap 190 to cause the eighth caution of the race. The accident also collected the No. 32 Toyota of Reed Sorenson and deprived Sorenson of a chance to wrest the points lead from Elliott Sadler.
That wasn’t the last major incident. When the field reached the second corner on Lap 197, a massive pileup slowed the race for the ninth time, and necessitated a green-white-checkered-flag finish that sent the race six laps past its scheduled distance at the 1.058-mile flat track.
Busch chose the inside lane, beat Harvick through Turns 1 and 2 and had a flag displaying the number 100 waiting for him at the stripe. Kasey Kahne ran third behind Busch and Harvick, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Aric Almirola.
“Harvick was right there on that (last) restart, but we got a good one, and I beat him through 1 and 2,” Busch said. “To me, it’s a great opportunity to be able to come out here and race.”
Martin, 52, came to victory lane to congratulate Busch.
“Everybody forgets—he’s 26 years old,” Martin said. “There are so many more out there for him.”
Bad blood between Harvick and Busch, who were both placed on probation after a post-race altercation at Darlington in May—not to mention a more recent confrontation between Busch and Harvick’s Sprint Cup car owner, Richard Childress—may have led to the restraints imposed by NASCAR.
“I was told a few weeks ago if we touched the 18 car we would be parked,” said Harvick, who described the feeling as being “handcuffed” by NASCAR.
Busch wasn’t a factor early, as the race took several twists before it played out in his favor. Brad Keselowski was first out of the pits for a restart on Lap 130, with enough fuel to go the distance. After quickly dispatching Mikey Kile, Kenny Wallace and Stenhouse, who had stayed on the track under the fifth caution of the race, Keselowski opened a lead of more than a half-second over Stenhouse.
But Keselowski surrendered the top spot to Stenhouse on Lap 152 and began to fade. Stenhouse stayed out front through an intense battle with Busch until NASCAR called the sixth caution for debris on the frontstretch on Lap 167.
With history in his sights, Busch passed Stenhouse for the lead on Lap 173 and began to pull away.
To Busch, the most significant pass took place on Lap 152, when he split Harvick and Keselowski to take the second position.
“I think the reason we won today was the pass out of (Turn 4), getting between the 22 (Keselowski) and the 33 (Harvick),” Busch said. “It was so tough to pass that any time you saw an opportunity, you’d better just jump on it.
“I did that and threaded the needle and put it into second (place), and then I chased down the 6 (Stenhouse) and got there but couldn’t get by him a couple times. It took a restart to do it.”