Friday’s roundup: Busch dominates Xfinity race

Gary B. Graves
Associated Press

Sparta, Ky. — Kyle Busch led 185 laps and caught a huge break before surviving a final restart to win Friday night’s 300-mile NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Kentucky Speedway.

The defending Sprint Cup Series champion needed overtime to win in his No. 18 Toyota, with the race going one circuit past its scheduled 200 laps after a late caution. Busch then outdueled Daniel Suarez and Austin Dillon in a three-wide restart to earn his first series win at Kentucky since 2004.

Busch benefited from a late mistake by Erik Jones. He passed Busch for the lead after a lap 174 restart just before the fourth yellow, but inadvertently shut off his car and fell to third as a penalty for failing to keep up with the pace car.

Dillon was second in a Chevy, with Suarez third in a Toyota and Jones fourth in a Toyota.

One night after his Camping World Truck Series team became that series’ winningest outfit, the Xfinity career wins leader earned his fifth victory and ninth top-10 this season. For a while the question was whether anybody would get close to Busch, who led six times.

Busch claimed the pole with a speed of 187.318 mph that edged out Suarez (187.298). He set his own groove and pace on the resurfaced, reconfigured track and had all the grip he needed after a full day of practice on the premier Cup level.

Only on that one restart did Busch show vulnerability as Jones made a gutsy pass on the outside. Jones never got the chance to put room between him and Busch as Ray Black Jr. quickly spun out to draw the yellow flag.

Jones’ No. 20 car then appeared to stall during the caution, creating the penalty and a turn of events that handed the lead to Busch for good.

Sprint Cup qualifying

Storms washed out qualifying at Kentucky Speedway on Friday, putting Kevin Harvick on the pole for Saturday night’s Sprint Cup Series race based on owner points.

Severe weather moved over the track near midday and shortened practice to around 30 minutes. A brief sprinkle followed but cars were able to return to the track for practice.

In any event, Harvick’s No. 4 Chevy will lead the field to green alongside Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Ford.

It is the first Kentucky pole for Harvick, who has two top-five starts in five trips here. But he and other drivers likely will have to reboot their strategy after rain washed the 1.5 mile tri-oval clean of rubber they put down in hopes of widening grooves on the resurfaced and reconfigured track.

“Hopefully, being able to get some more practice will be beneficial,” Harvick said. “We still don’t really have a good idea of exactly where we need to be as far as balance and what is going to happen the longer you run the car.”

Given the 2014 champion’s consistency this season, Harvick seems likely to figure it out.

Harvick hasn’t won since the fourth race at Phoenix, but has posted 13 top-10 finishes in 17 starts. He has led the points after the past eight races but has generated less buzz compared to counterparts such as Keselowski or defending champion Kyle Busch, who are tied with a series-best three wins.

Harvick thinks his steady results will translate into victories.

“We are cleaning a lot of things up as we go from week to week,” he said, “and hopefully we are ready as we get into the Chase and have everything hitting on all cylinders. I feel good about the performance and good about the progress that we have made with adjusting and adapting and the things that we have been able to achieve have been OK. Hopefully we can keep making them better.”

The rest of the top 10: Kurt Busch (Chevy); Joey Logano (Ford); Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch in Toyotas; Martin Truex Jr. (Toyota); rookie Chase Elliott (Chevy); Jimmie Johnson (Chevy) and Denny Hamlin (Toyota).