NASCAR: Busch wins at Watkins Glen
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Chalk up one for the team.
Subbing for injured Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch held off Jimmie Johnson on a green-white-checkered finish to win the Nationwide Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on Saturday.
Busch beat his Sprint Cup nemesis by nearly a second for his third victory in 12 Nationwide races. He also deprived brother Kyle of his 50th career victory, which would have broken a tie with Mark Martin for the most in series history.
Joey Logano edged Kyle Busch for third, and Carl Edwards was fifth. Paul Menard, Ron Fellows and Nationwide regulars Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 10.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. maintained his series lead with a 15th-place finish. Stenhouse leads Reed Sorenson by 10 points, Sadler is another 14 back, and Almirola is fourth.
Five years ago, Kurt Busch held off Robby Gordon for a Nationwide win in a fender-banging finish around the 11-turn, 2.45-mile circuit. Busch expected a replay this time, but it never materialized.
“I didn’t know where we were on fuel, I didn’t really care,” Busch said after crew chief Todd Gordon’s two-stop strategy worked to perfection. “It was one of those feelings of like, we’re going to see this race on ESPN Classic if we could have gotten to duel it out at the end. It just didn’t work out for him (Kyle).”
The race was mostly a battle between the Busch brothers until the second caution of the race flew with two laps remaining in regulation. They took turns leading the entire 85 laps of the race, with Kyle leading 48 laps and Kurt, who started on pole, ahead for 37.
Kyle’s chances took a big hit when he was forced to pit on lap 17 with his car beginning to overheat. Steam was pouring out of the release valve on the right side of hood after his No. 18 Toyota went off course and picked up a wad of grass on the front splitter.
Still, thanks to the first caution of the race, Kyle was able to save fuel, pitted for what he hoped was the last time on lap 50, and gained a 3-second lead over his brother after Kurt’s final stop on lap 55.
Kyle led Kurt by 0.893 seconds with 10 laps to go, with Edwards 2.2 seconds back in third as the three distanced themselves from the rest of the pack.
Kurt closed to his brother’s back bumper when both encountered heavy traffic.
“You’re going to have to watch it,” Kyle’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, warned over the radio. “Just run it until it runs out.”
Moments later, the fuel pressure began to fluctuate in the No. 18 and Busch had to pit for fuel.
“We were running hard together. It wasn’t to force him to run out of fuel,” Kurt said. “I wanted to race him as fair and square as you can, but they had a problem in the pits and we knew that they were short.
“Of course, we were going to continue to apply pressure. It wasn’t that we were hanging out and waiting. It seemed like I could catch him in traffic and get to his back bumper, but I couldn’t do anything. But that was still with 10 to go. With five to go, I was going to really pour it on, but those guys, they didn’t have enough fuel.”
Johnson and Kyle Busch got one last chance when the second caution flew, setting up the frantic finish. With only 10 cars on the lead lap, the last six decided to pit for tires and fuel, but Kurt Busch zoomed away when the green flag waved and was never threatened.
The win left Keselowski, who won the Nationwide title last year, beaming in the broadcast booth.
“This is great,” said Keselowski, who’s nursing a broken left ankle and bruised back incurred just over a week ago in a crash in testing. “The deal with Kurt didn’t come together until Tuesday. I walked up to Kurt and said, ‘Hey Kurt, I think it would be cool if you drove my car this weekend. I just don’t think that I can pull it off.’ He was like a kid in a candy store.”
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