Back-to-back; Kyle Busch holds off Keselowski for Atlanta victory
March 4, 2017
HAMPTON, Ga.–Kyle Busch started and ended Saturday’s XFINITY Series Race at Atlanta in the same spot: First.
Busch grabbed the lead on pit road on lap 145 after his No. 18 crew got him out first and the defending race winner held off a late-charge from Brad Keselowski to make it back-to-back victories at the 1.54-mile track.
“We weren’t great early on, we weren’t great through the middle … but [crew chief] Scott Graves and these guys worked on this car all day long,” Busch said.“I’m pretty proud to put ourselves in victory lane here once again, two years in a row. It took me so long to get here to begin with … and now we’ve got two wins in a row.”
The race’s fifth-and-final caution came when Clint King lost an engine to set up a 16-lap shootout. Keselowski spun the tires on the restart allowing Busch to put some distance between he and the No. 22 Ford. Busch’s car wasn’t to his liking but the crew worked on the piece all day before getting out front for good in the closing laps.
Crew chief Scott Graves calls the shots on the No. 18 Toyota Camry this season and has won the last two championships in the XFINITY Series, guiding Chris Buescher (2015) and Daniel Suarez (2016) to titles.
“It certainly means a lot to get [Graves] to victory lane, to get these group of guys to victory lane,” Busch said about Graves. “They just won a championship, so they’re fresh off of that, so certainly they want to get back to victory lane any chance they can get and we have 10 chances this year with me.”
Busch led the first seven circuits before losing the lead to Keselowski who won the first stage at lap 40. Keselowski began to run down the No. 18 NOS Energy Camry in-and-around lapped traffic but it was too little too late.
“When you look at the Gibbs cars versus the Penske cars, they have three very well-funded cars and I think they put a lot of energy and effort into this series for Kyle to win,” Keselowski said.
“We’re more interested in developing people. We didn’t have our Cup pit crew out there, we had our development pit crew out there and our development people and team. There are two different theories behind those efforts and it sets them apart. For those reasons, I’m proud of the days where we’re equal to or better.”
The No. 22 XFINITY team was shut out of victory lane last year and has Greg Erwin back on the pit box since last August after scoring a win with Joey Logano at Watkins Glen in a second Penske entry.
Kevin Harvick proved to be the class of the field Saturday by leading 64 of the 163 laps after starting 12th in the event in a second Stewart-Haas Racing car. Harvick’s car was better on the long runs when he blew by Keselowski for the top spot on lap 62. Harvick went on to win the second stage of the race in his first XFINITY start of 2017.
XFINITY Series regular Blake Koch ran into trouble early when Ty Dillon’s left-rear tire went down and spun, collecting the No. 11 LeafFilter Chevrolet and damaging Koch’s machine, making it a very short day for the Kaulig Racing team.
The race featured six lead changes among four drivers with Cup interlopers leading all the laps. Next time the XFINITY Series will race is next Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images