Saturday's motors: Kyle Busch completes 5-for-5 Xfinity sweep Atlanta win

By Charles Odum
Associated Press

Hampton, Ga. — Kyle Busch's Xfinity Series sweep wasn't as sweet as he hoped.

Busch completed a 5-for-5 sweep of what he says will be his final season in the Xfinity Series with a late recovery at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday.

Kyle Busch, left, leads AJ Allmendinger right, as they come out of the first caution, Saturday, July 10, 2021, in Hampton, Ga.

Busch knocked teammate Daniel Hemric from the lead with a late push. That cast a pall on what otherwise would have been an ideal way for Busch to say goodbye to NASCAR's second-tier series.

“It’s not quite the win we were hoping for,” Busch said. “A little bit of a somber win I guess, not just for it being the last one but for the way it kind of happened.”

Busch finished 0.550 seconds ahead of Jeb Burton for his 102nd Xfinity victory and 222nd overall in NASCAR’s three national series.

Busch took the lead after pushing Hemric on a restart with six laps remaining. Busch appeared to be trying to give Hemric, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, a helpful push on the restart. Instead, Hemric lost control and hit the wall.

“I just wanted to hit him forward and straight but turned him sideways a little bit,” Busch said.

Busch said he plans for this to be his final Xfinity race, though he left room to change his mind.

“Yeah, this is it,” Busch said. “You never say never, but this was the last one, the last scheduled one. We’ll hang it up and do something else on Saturdays.”

One week after Hemric had a runner-up finish to Busch, he was on the verge of his first career win before spinning on a restart when pushed by Busch with six laps remaining.

Busch said some will say he wrecked his teammate to clear the way for his sweep-clinching victory.

“People would say I did it on purpose, but why would I need to do it on purpose?” he said. “Kid going for his first win. I’m going for 102. I’ve been there, done that. I don’t need it. It would certainly help him a hell of a lot more than it’s going to help me and give the perception that now I have on that.”

Hemric took the lead on the final stage after Busch won the first two stages.

Busch has 102nd Xfinity victories and 222 overall in NASCAR's three national series.

Noah Gragson was third, followed by Justin Haley and Ty Dillon. Hemric finished 30th.

Xfinity points leader Austin Cindric was 10th.

“Unfortunately, that was the position we were in last time we were here and came with a new setup and tried to make things work today and we found ourselves in about the same position or maybe worse,” Cindric said.

Austin Dillon finished 11th as a late fill-in for Michael Annett, who was unable to drive the No. 1 Chevrolet due to a nagging leg injury. Dillon started at the back of the field.

One of Dillon’s first radio communications was a question asking for the name of his spotter and crew chief.

NASCAR only allows Cup Series drivers, including Busch, to compete in five Xfinity and five Truck Series races each year. Atlanta was Busch’s fifth and final Xfinity event — and fifth win — of 2021.

Busch said the scattered turnout by fans shows NASCAR shouldn't be keeping the big names away from the second-tier series.

“I know it's Atlanta, I know it’s 86 degrees out there but those grandstands didn’t look too good today,” he said. “... Names sell and if you ain’t got names you ain't selling.”

Busch will start second, behind Chase Elliott, in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series event, the final race before the Atlanta Motor Speedway track is repaved and remodeled.

Heat forced C.J. McLaughlin to leave his 66 Toyota about halfway through the final stage. He was treated and released from the infield care center.

More of Saturday's motors

► Larson, Elliott eye Atlanta redemption for hot Hendrick team

Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott have extra motivation to extend Hendrick Motorsports' hot streak to Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Larson's four wins this season lead NASCAR's top series. Elliott is the defending Cup champion and carries momentum from last week's victory at Road America, the seventh win in eight races for the powerful four-car team that also includes William Byron and Alex Bowman.

But chasing a victory at Atlanta has proved elusive.

Larson led 269 of 325 laps and won the first two stages in Atlanta in March before fading late on old tires as Ryan Blaney took an improbable win.

Larson watched video of that race this week, hoping to avoid another heartbreaking letdown.

“I learned a lot in the moment,” Larson said. “I think there’s even more I can learn re-watching it. ... You learn from everything, the good races, and you definitely learn from the races you feel like you gave away. So there’s definitely a lot to be learned.”

Elliott, from Dawsonville, Georgia, has never won in six tries on his home track. The spring race was especially frustrating as engine problems left him 38th.

Elliott clinched a playoff berth with his second win of the season last week. A first win in Atlanta, where his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, was a five-time champion, would be special.

“I don’t know that I feel more pressure, but I certainly want to do good,” Chase Elliott said. “I feel that everybody who has a home track or a place that’s close to them, you always want to do good there, and it’s just been a place I haven’t done all that great at.”

Elliott will start on the pole, beside Kyle Busch. The starting lineup was set based on last week's finish. Larson will start sixth.