Avondale, Ariz. — Kyle Busch certainly knows the way to victory lane at ISM Raceway.
Even after the track was reconfigured.
Busch took the lead shortly after the start of the final stage Saturday and cruised to his second consecutive Xfinity Series victory – and his 11th at the mile-long track just outside Phoenix.
“If I’m allowed to race, I’m going to enter a race and try to go out there and win,” said Busch, whose victories at Las Vegas and now this weekend give him 198 in NASCAR’s top three series.
Busch was pushed the first half of the race by Christopher Bell, who won the pole and had been consistently fastest in practice. But everything changed when Stephen Leicht, a car in lapped traffic, blew his engine near the start-finish line and sent a cloud of smoke billowing across the track.
Busch was already ahead of him, but Bell and second-place Justin Allgaier were blinded. Throw in some oil that covered the surface and both of them wound up backing into the wall.
Allgaier managed to finish 14th, one lap down, but Bell’s day was done.
“Christopher was certainly going to give me a run for our money,” Busch said. “I hate that he got caught up in that mess. It was going to be a really fun run to the end there.”
Bell also was dueling Busch in overtime at Las Vegas when he wound up wrecking, making it two straight weeks that he had one of the quickest cars and ended up disappointed.
“I saw him blow up so I knew I was in trouble,” Bell said. “I saw (Allgaier) get sideways, and by the time I had entered the smoke wall and I knew I was sliding, I just couldn’t see anything. I didn’t know where I was. Backed her into the wall.”
Ryan Truex finished second in his first start of the season. Reigning series champion Tyler Reddick was third, followed by Cole Custer and Austin Cindric.
“We got the car pretty good. We weren’t bad there at the end,” Custer said. “ It’s just every single restart I gave up too many stops and couldn’t get it going very good.”
Roger Penske’s teams are off to such a strong start to the motorsports season that his IndyCar group arrived at the season-opening event under pressure to match the performance.
No problem at all.
Will Power and Josef Newgarden swept the front row in qualifying to put a pair of Penske’s Chevrolets out front for Sunday’s race through the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. Not long after the IndyCar race concludes, Penske driver Ryan Blaney will start from the pole in the NASCAR race in Phoenix as the organization seeks its third consecutive Cup victory.
Last weekend, reigning Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin swept the season-opening pair of races in Australia for Penske.
“I think when (Roger) refers to V8 Supercar races, and the last two NASCAR races, the teams are firing on all cylinders,” Power said. “The pressure is on us for us to follow the lead.”
The pole for Power is his eighth in the last 10 years at St. Pete and 55th of his career, second on the all-time list behind Mario Andretti.
Roger Penske was on Power’s radio when he shot to the top of the board and the 82-year-old team owner gave a hearty “Woooo!” in celebration.
Power was stunned to learn he’d moved to P1 in his Chevrolet.
“I was over the moon, I really didn’t think I’d get pole,” Power said.
But Penske and team President Tim Cindric knew the three-car IndyCar lineup would be strong this weekend, in part fueled by the success of the rest of the organization. The sports car program opened the year with a podium finish in the Rolex 24 at Daytona and races next week in the Twelve Hours of Sebring.
“The IndyCar guys showed up this weekend and our drivers were like, ‘It’s up to us now,’” said Cindric. “In a healthy way it spurs them on. They can’t get too comfortable.”
Newgarden, disappointed to be nipped by teammate Power, said the expectation inside the Penske organization is to put in maximum effort at every turn to achieve results.
“That’s what you feel when you join Penske,” Newgarden said. “I don’t know that it’s pressure but I just think Roger expects you to understand and appreciate the history, and you feel the need to get the most out of yourself. You just push yourself to be the best you can be, and generally Roger puts the best people together.”
The second row Sunday belongs to Chip Ganassi Racing. Felix Rosenqvist will start third in his IndyCar debut alongside reigning series champion Scott Dixon. Both Rosenqvist and Dixon advanced through qualifying because of penalties to two other drivers. Dixon made it out of the first round when Takuma Sato’s time was disallowed, and Rosenqvist made it into the Fast Six when Colton Herta’s times were disqualified for interference in the second qualifying session.
Herta thought he was a contender for the pole in his debut for Harding Steinbrenner Racing, but the 18-year-old rookie was instead eliminated.
“I blocked him, simple as that,” Herta said. “I’m pretty mad, but rules are rules and we broke them.”
The final two slots in the Fast Six went to Andretti Autosport as the top three teams in IndyCar all showed why they dominate the series with strong qualifying runs. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi were fifth and sixth. Herta, who drives for a team that receives support from the Andretti organization, had been locked into the Fast Six until IndyCar said he interfered with Charlie Kimball.
Andretti thought it had another strong entrant with Marco Andretti, but he stopped on pit lane to bring out the red flag during the first qualifying group. Because he was the cause of the stoppage, Andretti was not permitted to advance out of the qualifying group – spoiling a day in which he’d shown good speed in practice.
Then Santino Ferrucci went off course in the final two minutes of the qualifying session, and it spoiled the runs of several top contenders. Both Simon Pagenaud and two-time defending race winner Sebastien Bourdais failed to advance when the Ferrucci red flag stopped the session. Bourdais won from 14th last year and started 21st in his 2017 victory.