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Saturday's motorsports: Kyle Busch races to 100th Xfinity win in return to Nashville

Associated Press

Lebanon, Tenn. — Kyle Busch raced to his 100th career Xfinity Series victory Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway, where he won for the fourth time.

Busch won in the Xfinity Series in 2009 and the Truck Series in 2010 and 2011, but the track closed the year he won his last race. The speedway re-opened this weekend and will host its first Cup race Sunday.

Kyle Busch celebrates with the guitar trophy after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series auto race at Nashville Superspeedway on Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Lebanon, Tenn.

Busch led seven times for 123 laps and beat Justin Allgaier in overtime for his third victory in three Xfinity races this season. His 100th win in his 360th career start is a nearly 28% winning percentage.

“I remember growing up as a kid watching Mark Martin win every week and wondering, ‘Can anybody beat this guy?’ And that was 49 wins,” Busch said. “So I just can't fathom, right now myself, what 100 really means. It's certainly something I will look back on once all is said and done and I'm in a rocking chair somewhere.”

It might be all said and done after two more Xfinity Series races. Busch doesn't think Joe Gibbs Racing has sold any Xfinity races yet for him in 2022 and so this year could be his last running his allowed five events a season.

“Why? Did you hear the crowd? Nobody likes me,” Busch said. “I get beat up, whether it is the fans or (media), like ‘Why am I doing it? What am I doing it for? Why am I beating on the little guys?’ I love winning. If I can't win on the Cup side, hell, I may quit that and come back and run Xfinity full time.”

NASCAR only allows Cup drivers to compete in five Xfinity and five Truck Series races a year and Busch uses all his starts. NASCAR first set the limit at 10 races in 2017, cut it to seven in 2018 and then five last year.

“If you look back on the last 10 years, with all the limitations, I mean hell, I probably could have made that number 150 by now, 160, 70, whatever,” Busch said. “But with everything that went down and only been able to run five a year, it's 100 now.”

Busch and Allgaier had a spirited late battle and swapped the lead six times in the final 49 laps. As the crowd booed him after he collected the checkered flag, he thanked his “Rowdy Nation” supporters and mocked the haters.

“I saw a lot of you standing up when Allgaier took the lead,” Busch told the crowd, “and then a lot of you sat back down when I took the lead."

Busch was vilified by fans in 2009 for smashing the winner's Gibson guitar trophy in victory lane and he playfully pretended he was going to do it again while celebrating NASCAR's re-opening. But after lifting the Gibson over his head, he instead pretended to play it like a rock star.

Allgaier finished second and was followed by Harrison Burton, Josh Berry and AJ Allmendinger.

Reigning Xfinity Series champion retained a 90-point lead over Allmendinger in the standings despite crashing and finishing 32nd.

“Every time we get up to a 100-point points lead, we end up getting wrecked,” Cindric said. "It’s frustrating, but that’s racing. There’s nothing you can do.”

More motorsports

Hendricks trio sets pace at reopened Nashville Superspeedway

Lebanon, Tenn. — New track, same old names atop the leaderboard.

William Byron, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott paced the first ever Cup Series practice at Nashville Superspeedway in yet another display of how dominant Hendrick Motorsports is right now.

Hendrick drivers have won five straight headed into Sunday's race, the first for Cup at a speedway that sat dormant the last decade and first for the series in the Nashville area in 37 years.

Cars come down the main straightaway at Nashville Superspeedway during a NASCAR Xfinity Series auto race Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Lebanon, Tenn.

Asked what it will take to beat a Hendrick driver, Ryan Blaney of Team Penske had only one idea: “Wreck ’em, I guess."

Denny Hamlin, points leader this season but still searching for his first win, gave Byron a playful shove as he walked past following Saturday's 55-minute practice session. Hamlin was eighth-fastest in practice but the Toyotas struggled around Nashville and its other four drivers were 20th or lower on the speed chart.

“We’re a little worried,” admitted Martin Truex Jr. “We’re about to do some wholesale changes. It feels really slow, really greasy, just really slick and hard to find any grip.”

Hamlin said nobody has the same speed as the Chevrolets, particularly the Hendrick group.

“We are off a ways for sure. If I can’t run with them, I can’t run with them,” Hamlin said. "If there are four cars in particular that are faster than us, then it’s my job to finish fifth.”

Nashville opened in 2001 and hosted 21 Xfinity Series races and 13 Truck Series events before it closed in 2011 when it couldn't get a coveted Cup date. Dover Motorsports owns the track and moved one of its weekends from its Delaware facility to Nashville to re-open the speedway and at last host a Cup race.

NASCAR awarded the track a four-year sanctioning agreement.

Only 14 drivers in Sunday's field had raced the 1.33-mile D-shaped oval before this weekend, and only Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Austin Dillon and Joey Logano won lower series races before Nashville closed. Ryan Preece, Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain all entered Friday night's Truck Series race and Preece won in his first career start in a truck.

“It felt easy for me lap one just because I was in the truck race," said Byron. “I had some experience around cars, had some track time.”

Verstappen beats both Mercedes for pole at French GP

Le Castellet, France — Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen won his second pole of the season and put his Red Bull in front of Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton for the start the French Grand Prix.

Verstappen set a time of 1 minute, 29.990 seconds around the Paul Ricard circuit in southern France to grab the top starting spot before Hamilton and his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas crossed the line at the end of Saturday's qualifying session.

Bottas jumped to second when he crossed the line, but Hamilton completed his lap right behind Bottas and bumped his teammate down a spot.

Sergio Perez was fourth for Red Bull as the top four qualifiers all ran at the rear of the pack before completing their final flying laps as the session expired.

Carlos Sainz was fifth for Ferrari and followed by Pierre Gasly for AlphaTauri and Charles Leclerc in seventh for Ferrari. McLaren teammates Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo were eighth and 10th, respectively, separated by Fernando Alonso in ninth for Alpine.

Verstappen's only other pole this season came in the opener at Bahrain, but he finished second to seven-time champion Hamilton. He's since won two races to take a four-point lead over Hamilton into Sunday's race.

His advantage might have been larger but the Dutchman crashed when his tire failed while leading late at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix two weeks ago.

Verstappen had qualified fourth in his both of his previous two races at Paul Ricard.

“So far it's been a really positive weekend on the track,” Verstappen said. “Of course no points are scored (qualifying), but for us great day and we have to finish it off and try to get 25 points that we lost in Baku.”

Hamilton and Bottas swapped chassis this weekend and Bottas said he's off to a much better start than in Baku, where he qualified 10th and finished 12th. But Hamilton said he's been “generally unhappy in the car all weekend" and the qualifying effort was a breakthrough.

“It's been a really, really hard weekend, mentally and not just talking physically, but trying to get the car into a happy place,” Hamilton said. “You wouldn't believe how many changes I've made since practice one, going around and around kind of chasing our tail and ended up coming back to something similar to where we started."

Mick Schumacher made it through to Q2 for the first time in his F1 career, but only after his crash ended Q1 25 seconds earlier. The rear of his Haas spun and Schumacher went backward across the runoff before hitting a barrier.

The opening qualifying session was stopped by a red flag after just three minutes when Yuki Tsunoda spun off backward into a barrier behind Turn 2. He will start last.

Newgarden earns pole for IndyCar race at Road America

Elkhart Lake, Wis. — Josef Newgarden insists this season hasn’t been overly frustrating for Team Penske even without a victory to show for it yet.

Perhaps this is the week Newgarden or another Team Penske driver finally breaks through. This is the longest Team Penske has gone without a win to start a season since 1999, and it finished that year winless.

“We’ve been well within striking distance.” said Newgarden, who earned the pole position for Sunday’s IndyCar race at Road America.

Indeed, Team Penske’s had plenty of close calls through the first eight races of the season. It just hasn’t quite closed the deal.

That was particularly apparent during last weekend’s doubleheader at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park in Detroit. Team Penske’s Will Power seemed in control of the first race until his car wouldn’t restart after a red flag. Newgarden was edged by Pato O’Ward in the second race.

“We’re in the hunt every weekend, so I’m not dissatisfied with where we’re at,” Newgarden said. “We just need to pick it up here and hopefully have some of these results turn our way. That’s really what we need here for this second half, just to get a couple of things turning our way. I think other than that it’s been a really good year for the most part.”

Newgarden earned the pole Saturday by posting a fastest lap of 1 minute, 46.0186 seconds on a road course that extends just over 4 miles and features 14 turns. He will be joined on the front row by Colton Herta. Jack Harvey will start third.

Three of the top six qualifiers were Team Penske drivers, with Will Power fourth and Simon Pagenaud sixth.

Newgarden benefited from his choice of tires.

Drivers have their choice of two different tire compounds marked by a red or black stripe on the shoulder of the tire. The red tires are softer than the black ones and often faster initially but tend to degrade within a lap or two.

Newgarden opted to use black tires in the “Fast Six” final round of qualifying while the other drivers were using reds.

“We made an early decision on that,” Newgarden said. “That’s not always worked out. There’s been other cases, even this year, where you thought maybe the blacks would be better in a Fast Six scenario, and they haven’t been. This is the first time you’ve seen it truly be better.”

Herta expects tire usage to be a major factor in Sunday’s race as well.

“I think it’s going to be a tire race,” Herta said. “Tire deg (degradation) is going to be the talk of it. Whoever has the best car that’s nailed down at the rear the most, if they can save those rear tires, especially on the reds, is going to be the best.

"It’s surprising, too, because even the black tires don’t seem to be so good with deg this weekend, too. There is deg at a similar rate of deg with the reds.”