Saturday's motor sports: Busch dominates in Xfinity win
Loudon, N.H. — Kyle Busch tossed his 2-year-old son in the air during his latest victory lane celebration.
He’s taking baby steps toward catching The King.
Busch dominated yet again to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
He won for the third time this season and 89th time in his career in the second-tier series. On Saturday night, he told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he plans to retire from the Xfinity Series when he gets to 100 victories.
He has 175 career wins over NASCAR’s three national series: Cup (38 wins; 2015 champion); Xfinity (89; 2009 champion); and Truck (48). Richard Petty is NASCAR’s career leader with 200 wins, all at the Cup level.
“I know a lot of those are the minors, so I’ll take them where I can get ‘em as of right now,” Busch said. “But certainly there’s going to be a lot more wins to be had on Sundays, as well. I’ve got a long road ahead of me, probably.”
Busch started from the pole and wasn’t challenged much late after an early duel with fellow Cup regular Brad Keselowski. Keselowski led 102 laps but had nothing for Busch down the stretch because of a pit road penalty.
“It is always fun being fast and leading the most laps and all that but we just didn’t put the whole race together,” Keselowski said.
Busch’s No. 18 Toyota was one of just six cars that finished on the lead lap.
Ryan Preece was second, followed by William Byron, Kyle Larson and Keselowski. Larson was set to start the Cup race Sunday from the pole until his car failed inspection and forced him to the rear of the field.
Series points leader Elliott Sadler was seventh in a race that included a 58-minute rain delay. He has a 45-point lead over Byron.
The 19-year-old Byron had his sixth top-five of the season. He has two victories driving for JR Motorsports and has made a case as a candidate to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 at Hendrick Motorsports next season.
Earnhardt, long NASCAR’s most popular driver, left the team’s top Cup seat available when he announced he would retire from the series at the end of the season.
Alex Bowman, who ably filled in for the injured Earnhardt last season, is perhaps the top contender to drive the 88. But Byron and free agent Matt Kenseth are certainly in the mix — and the odds of landing at Hendrick improve if the organization decides to cut ties with the slumping Kasey Kahne.
Team owner Rick Hendrick watched the race from atop Byron’s pit box.
“He did a great job. Very impressive the way he works traffic and the feedback on the radio. Really good,” Hendrick said. “The guys are giving him good cars, but he’s got a lot of talent, and he’s a quick learner. He’s fast. He goes right to the edge in a hurry. He’s doing a good job. I’m real proud of him.”
Hendrick refused to tip his hand on a timetable for the 88 replacement.
“Too early. Man, this is just, what, July? Just July,” he said, laughing.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, the leader at Hendrick, has kept an eye on Byron’s rapid rise through the ranks.
“It’s fun watching him grow. At his age, I just don’t want to be in too big of a hurry,” he said.
Byron, who won seven Truck Series races last season, dismissed questions about his future.
“It’s good to be running like this. It feels really good for our team,” he said. “It’s cool to have Mr. Hendrick out here supporting us and everyone at JRM. It’s neat. It’s been a good couple of weeks. We’ve finished in the top 10 the last six weeks or something like that. It’s really something to be proud of. I feel like we’re able to build on that and hopefully take it to Indy and keep progressing.”
Keep progressing all the way to Cup?
At Toronto, Simon Pagenaud took the pole for the IndyCar race Sunday at Exhibition Place.
Pagenaud had a track-record lap of 58.9124 seconds at an average speed of 109.138 mph on the 1.786-mile street course for his first pole of the season and 10th overall.
The Frenchman, the defending series champion who won this this year on the oval in Phoenix, gave Team Penske its eighth pole in 11 races this season.
Graham Rahal was second for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, followed by Penske’s Helio Castroneves and Will Power, and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon. Power won last year.
Hometown favorite James Hinchcliffe qualified sixth for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. He trailed for most of the first round of qualifying, but rallied to advance into the second after rookie Esteban Gutierrez’s crash.
Gutierrez crashed near the end of the first round, hitting the wall on the straightaway to the finish line. His car caught fire, but the former Formula One driver escaped without injury.
At Silverstone, England, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton took pole position for the fifth time at the British Grand Prix, ahead of Ferrari rivals Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel in rainy conditions.
Hamilton sped around Silverstone in 1 minute, 26.6 seconds in front of his home fans.
They cheered the three-time Formula One world champion at the end of a week when he faced criticism for being the only driver to snub a promotional event in London.
Hamilton was relieved after escaping action for blocking Romain Grosjean during qualifying, with stewards ruling that the Haas car was not impeded.
Hamilton, who is 20 points behind leader Vettel in the drivers’ championship, is now one short of Michael Schumacher’s all-time record 68 poles.
Valtteri Bottas was fourth fastest, but he has a five-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race after being forced to change the gearbox in his Mercedes.