Busch Earns First Martinsville Wins in a Dominant Weekend
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.