KYLE CRUISES

Busch Earns First Martinsville Wins in a Dom­i­nant Week­end

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS -

Adom­i­nant week­end for Kyle Busch at Martinsville Speedway net­ted a pair of wins — one in Sun­day’s STP 500 for the Sprint Cup Se­ries and one in Satur­day’s Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries Al­pha En­ergy So­lu­tions 250 — and erased an in­ter­est­ing blem­ish from the de­fend­ing Cup cham­pion’s ster­ling ré­sumé.

Busch, 30, now has won at least once at ev­ery ac­tive track on the sport’s an­nual calendar. But the two wins were a long time com­ing for the younger of NASCAR’s Busch brothers. Not once in 30 pre­vi­ous Martinsville starts — 21 in Cup, one in the XFINITY Se­ries and eight in the Truck Se­ries — had Busch gone to Vic­tory Lane at the ven­er­a­ble half-mile short track. It was by the far the long­est win­less drought at any track in his ca­reer.

“It’s cer­tainly neat to be able to show your di­ver­sity and be­ing able to go out there and win at any sin­gle style of race­track that there is,” Busch said. “I think that just shows ta­lent and ob­vi­ously, too, you’ve got great peo­ple be­hind you.”

Busch swept the week­end races in sim­i­lar fash­ion both days: He led laps early then took a stran­gle­hold on the lead af­ter half­way and never re­lin­quished it. On Sun­day, Busch took the lead for the fifth time at Lap 327 and led the re­main­der of the 500-lap race. All told, Busch led 352 laps in Sun­day’s bid to take home a sec­ond Ridge­way grand­fa­ther clock awarded to win­ners at Martinsville and his first win of the young 2016 Cup sea­son.

Busch held serve over the fi­nal stretch in part due to team­work. He and Joe Gibbs Rac­ing team­mate Matt Kenseth were the class of the field in the race’s sec­ond half and of­ten lined up 1-2 on the front row of NASCAR’s dou­ble-file restarts. Not­ing that the out­side lane of the pa­per­clip-like turns was a heavy dis­ad­van­tage, Kenseth pro­tected the low groove and would al­low Busch — the race’s leader — to swing in front of him upon the green flag. The strat­egy kept both cars up front un­til a late restart when it was called off. Kenseth, on the out­side, lost sub­stan­tial po­si­tion and limped to a 15th-place fin­ish.

“We all talked as a group ear­lier (Sun­day) morn­ing about how we were go­ing to do that and what we were go­ing to do and we all said, ‘Okay, with 10 to go, it’s pretty much off lim­its, no more,’” said Busch. “It was 12 to go, so it was pretty much right on the brink there. So sorry (to) Matt (Kenseth), but I can’t say enough about my team­mates. They helped me a lot at this place as well.”

Sun­day’s win was the 35th of Busch’s Sprint Cup ca­reer and 159th over­all in NASCAR com­pe­ti­tion. He be­came just the sec­ond ac­tive Joe Gibbs Rac­ing driver to score a win at Martinsville, join­ing team­mate Denny Ham­lin as own­ers of the cov­eted Martinsville clocks. Ham­lin wrecked out of Sun­day’s race while rac­ing in the top 5 and fin­ished 39th. Ham­lin said his car suf­fered a “wheel hop” be­fore los­ing con­trol.

“A bit of a rookie move on my part,” Ham­lin said. “(I’ve) been around here too much to do some­thing like that. But (our team is) learn­ing for the fall and I’m re­ally en­cour­aged about how good our car came up through the pack. I re­ally thought we had a car that could win.”

Busch was briefly chal­lenged for the win dur­ing the race’s fi­nal restart with 12 laps to go. That’s when a sur­pris­ing AJ All­mendinger nosed his way to sec­ond place and tried to close the gap on Busch. All­mendinger could never reach Busch’s bumper, how­ever, and came across the fin­ish line in sec­ond. It tied the best fin­ish of All­mendinger’s Cup ca­reer on an oval (he’s won at the Watkins Glen road course) and served as his JTG-Daugh­erty Rac­ing team’s first top-5 fin­ish since the Au­gust 2014 Watkins Glen win.

“(Crew chief) Ran­dall Bur­nett and all the guys and pit crew, I can’t thank them enough,” All­mendinger said. “They re­ally stepped it up the last two weeks and gave us a shot to win that race. I had to get ag­gres­sive. I thought with 12 to go we might have a new clock in the shop. Came up a lit­tle bit short. It’s pretty cool to be rac­ing Kyle Busch for the win here, though.”

Kyle Lar­son (third) earned his first top-5 of 2016 ahead of Austin Dillon (fourth) and Brad Ke­selowski (fifth).

The spoils of vic­tory: Kyle Busch earned two cov­eted grand­fa­ther clocks with his first two wins at the sto­ried Martinsville pa­per­clip.

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