Saturday's motors: Kyle Busch dominates in snagging Xfinity race win in Austin

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Austin, Texas — Kyle Busch turned in a dominating performance to win the NASCAR Xfinity race at the Circuit of the Americas on Saturday, with lessons learned for maybe an even bigger victory later in the weekend.

Busch, looking to get some extra laps and much-needed track experience before the NASCAR Cup Series race, stepped into the Xfinity lineup and crushed the field from the pole position with a pace and road course mastery that left little doubt about the outcome from the opening laps.

Kyle Busch (54) leads the field into Turn 13 during the NASCAR Xfinity Series auto race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, Saturday, May 22, 2021.

Busch led 36 of 46 laps and finished 11 seconds ahead of A.J. Allmendinger for his record 98th Xfinity victory and 217th in NASCAR's top three series.

The win and the course knowledge will be a boost heading into Sunday's Cup race if conditions stay the same. The Saturday race was dry. Rain looms in the forecast for Sunday.

NASCAR's inaugural race weekend at the 3.4-mile track built for Formula One is pushing drivers to quickly learn its 20 turns, s-curves and elevation changes. None are trickier than the first corner, a left-handed switchback that quickly send the cars into a 133-foot descent.

Busch had cut through the wet conditions in the morning to earn pole position and was just as dominant when the sun came out.

Ross Chastain started second and challenged Busch from the start through the first corner. But his race was done early as he broke an axle when he left the track in the first lap and his car limped back the garage.

Busch led most of the first stage but wound up 13th after getting delayed by traffic in pit lane. He quickly returned to the front before pitting again at the end of the second. Justin Haley, who missed last week's race at Dover because of what was termed as problems with coronavirus protocols, won the second stage.

Busch then closed the door on the field with a bolt up the hill out of third-stage restart. He had a car-length lead heading in the first turn, denying Allmendinger's best chance to make a race of it late.

Justin Allgaier finished third. Xfinity series leader and defending champ Austin Cindric, who has three wins and seven top-five finishes this season, finished fifth.

De Silvestro comes up short on 1st day of Indy qualifying

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Beth Paretta listened intently to the sounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and took her cues from the crowd each time Simona de Silvestro hit the track in Saturday qualifying.

When the crowd roared as de Silvestro beat the clock for one final qualifying attempt, Paretta knew her team still had a chance to start this year's Indianapolis 500.

But mere minutes later, when de Silvestro crossed the yard of bricks, Paretta realized she'd need to wait one more day.

“Watching her go by, I could tell by the sound,” Paretta said. “I knew she didn’t have it on the first lap.”

Paretta Autosport failed Saturday to place de Silvestro in the top 30 of qualifying as female-heavy team made its debut. The Swiss driver, her predominantly female crew members and the trailblazing owner will be among five teams vying for the final three spots in the race Sunday.

Three times, de Silvestro attempted to make it.

Each time, her four-lap averages were too slow. The team will now search for speed solutions for a problem that became apparent Friday.

De Silvestro said she was “super happy" with how the No. 16 Chevrolet performed in practice — until series officials turned up the horsepower to increase speeds. The change threw off the car's balance and the speed has lagged.

“It's really strange, maybe we changed too much," de Silvestro said. “I think I'll spend the night doing a lot of video watching and going through a lot of data. We' have one hour to put it in the show and we need a clean run."

She's not the only one.

Rookie RC Enerson, Sage Karam, Charlie Kimball and 2018 Indy winner Will Power all struggled Saturday and will come back Sunday looking to qualify for the May 30 race.

But her final attempt of the day that caused consternation in three different places around Gasoline Alley.

While Power waited anxiously in line for a chance that never came, A.J. Foyt Enterprises president Larry Foyt worried that his team's strategy of withdrawing Dalton Kellet's speed and requalifying may have backfired when de Silvestro pulled out of pit lane with 8 seconds to go.

She ended up 0.853 seconds slower than Kellet.

“You're given one minute to leave and I believe we used as much time as we could with just enough left in case he stalled," Foyt said. “I was very nervous because she has great people over there and I know the engineer very well. I feel for him because I know he's probably gutted right now.”

Foyt and Peretta spent the next four laps waiting, watching and listening.

“It's racing, it's Indy," Peretta said. “It's nothing we didn't anticipate could happen."

NASCAR trucks series

Todd Gilliland powered through wet conditions early, then grabbed the lead late to pull away for his first NASCAR trucks series victory of the season Saturday at the Circuit of the Americas.

Gilliland was in a four-car group that drew from the pack at the start of the final stage, then overtook Sheldon Creed, Tyler Ankrum and Kaz Grala over the final laps. This was his second career trucks win and first since 2019.

Todd Gilliland celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Truck Series auto race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, Saturday, May 22, 2021.

“From the drop of the green flag, I was aggressive,” said Gilliland, who started fifth and overcame a penalty that briefly put him in the back of the field. "If you've got the truck to do it ... you've got to get by people when you can."

Gilliland noted he just turned 21 a week ago.

“It might be a fun night,” he said.

The victory also marked the first of any kind for a NASCAR series race at the Circuit of the Americas. NASCAR is racing at the 3.4-mile Formula One road course for the first time this weekend and doing it amid wind and rain that soaked the track through practice and the early part of the race.

None of it seemed to bother Gilliland, who won the first stage, then was penalized and pushed to the back when a crew member jumped the wall too early on his pit entry. He quickly recovered and was back among the leaders with 10 laps to go.

A nip-and-tuck battle with Ankrum for the lead finally put him in front for good. Gilliland got only faster as conditions dried. He put in his fastest lap on worn tires with two laps still to go.

Even with the bad conditions early, the race was mostly clean with lots of bumps but no collisions to bring out a yellow flag.

Ankrum finished third behind Grala, who led 11 laps.

"It was challenging keeping up with track conditions. We ended the race on a totally different track than we started," Grala said.

Creed, the defending series champion, who has won the previous race at Darlington, faded late to fifth.