Joliet, Ill. — Joe Gibbs Racing grabbed its first victory of the weekend on Saturday night when Kyle Busch won the Xfinity Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.
The race was a rout for JGR as drivers Busch and Matt Kenseth combined to lead 186 of the 200 laps.
The two then dueled over the closing laps, with Kenseth sliding past Busch for the lead with two laps remaining. Kenseth had to race his way around Chase Elliott and John Wes Townley to make the sweeping pass of his teammate.
But Busch immediately answered, snatched the lead back, and sailed off to his record 74th career Xfinity Series victory. Kenseth was stuck behind Townley over the final lap, which held him up and prevented him from making another attempt at the win.
He dryly then referred to Townley as the character who played a fried chicken magnate in “Stroker Ace” when discussing the closing laps. Townley is sponsored by his family’s chain of fried chicken restaurants.
“Yeah, I just couldn’t get Clyde Torkel out of the way, but I was trying, man,” said Kenseth, who noted Elliott moved out of the way. “Thanks to Chase for giving us a lane to race for the win.”
Busch marveled at the closing laps in victory lane.
“That was some fun racing,” he said before accepting the winning trophy from actor/rapper Ludacris.
Kenseth finished second, and the two Toyota drivers ran first and second for all but 17 laps of the race.
It was a strong opening race for JGR, which has won seven of the last 14 Xfinity Series races. More impressive, the organization heads into Sunday’s opening round of NASCAR’s playoffs with eight wins in the last 11 Sprint Cup events.
All four of JGR’s drivers are in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field and the organization is considered a heavy favorite to win the Cup championship this year.
On Saturday, in a race for fun, Busch certainly enjoyed the closing laps with his teammate.
“That was a race. I thought that was a blast being able to run with Matt like that. I’m glad it was a teammate,” Busch said, noting he thought an earlier pass of Kenseth had sealed the win.
“I thought when I got to him and I got clear of him and I drove away from him, it was over. I thought ‘Thank you, I can breathe a little bit.’ Then he started running us back down.”
Kenseth was disappointed in defeat.
“The best car didn’t win tonight, the best driver did,” said Kenseth. “Kyle just did a better job driving than I did and I had the fastest car. I just took too long to get to the top (lane) and try to make that work. So anyway, we got beat. It’s a bummer to be second.”
Darrell Wallace Jr. finished third in a Ford and was followed by the Chevrolets of Paul Menard and Ty Dillon. Daniel Suarez, in the third JGR Toyota in the field, finished sixth.
Kyle Larson finished 22nd after running out of fuel in the closing laps for the second time Saturday. He was leading the Truck Series race Saturday morning and was headed to the victory when he ran out of gas.
He took to Twitter almost immediately after the race ended to vent about his bad luck.
“Hope I’m done worrying about fuel for the weekend,” he tweeted.
Nemechek takes Trucks
John Hunter Nemechek grabbed his first career victory by capitalizing in the Truck Series race at Chicagoland Speedway when others didn’t have the fuel to make it to the finish.
The second-generation NASCAR driver was running second Saturday morning behind Kyle Larson when Larson ran out of gas two laps from the finish. With Larson coasting on the bottom of the track, Nemechek cruised past him to grab his first national series victory.
Nemechek turned 18 in June and drives for a team fielded by his father, journeyman Joe Nemechek. The team has nine full-time employees for Nemechek’s truck team, and his father said his son would be at the North Carolina shop by 8 a.m. on Sunday morning to work on the truck he’ll race next weekend at New Hampshire.
“The one thing I do give John Hunter credit for is he does have the want-to,” Joe Nemechek said. “It’s determination, it’s focus and he knows what he wants. You don’t see that a lot in the sport anymore.”
John Hunter praised his father, who has 1,115 starts across NASCAR’s three national series. Although Joe Nemechek has 20 career victories, none were in the Truck Series.
“He has everything invested in me and he believes in me. Without him, none of this would be possible today,” John Hunter said.
Tyler Reddick finished second and was followed by Timothy Peters and Daniel Suarez.
Reddick cut the deficit to points leader Erik Jones to 10 points, while two-time defending series champion Crafton is third and 12 points back.
Truex fastest in Sprint practice
Martin Truex Jr. was the fastest in both practice sessions Saturday for the opening round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Chase drivers took nine of the top 11 spots on the speed chart in the final practice for the race Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
Truex’s fast lap of 184.849 led the last session. He was followed by Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards as all three manufacturers were represented in the top four.
Jimmie Johnson was sixth-fastest and followed by Denny Hamlin and Paul Menard.
Millican top qualifier
Clay Millican earned his first No. 1 qualifying position in Top Fuel in more than two years Saturday in the playoff-opening NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.
Millican, who missed claiming one of the top 10 playoff positions in the six-race NHRA Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship, took the top spot with his Friday run of 3.758 seconds at 318.77 mph.
Tommy Johnson Jr. topped Funny Car qualifying, Greg Anderson led in Pro Stock, and Eddie Krawiec was the fastest in Pro Stock Motorcycle.