CONCORD, N.C. – Kyle Busch had to work a lot harder than he expected on Monday evening at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
After losing the lead on the final restart, Busch pulled off a last-lap pass on Austin Cindric to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series Alsco 300, his 97th victory in the series and first of the season aboard the No. 54 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Busch struggled with restarts all night, losing the race lead on multiple occasions as he struggled to get his Toyota up to speed. The same thing happened on the final green-white-checkered restart, where Cindric managed to get steal the lead away from Busch.
“Those guys put up a whale of a fight tonight on restarts,” Busch said after his ninth Xfinity Series victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I was really surprised by that, I guess I’m not that good at it anymore.”
Cindric initially inherited the lead after a bizarre turn of events when the caution flag waved for Timmy Hill’s engine expiring on lap 156. Behind him Busch, who had been the leader when the cycle of pit stops began, was forced to race his way back to the front after getting caught speeding on pit road.
After a fairly clean race for much of the night, cautions came quickly over the final 40 laps. A caution on lap 172 for a crash involving Chase Briscoe sent Busch and several others down pit road for new tires while Cindric and four others opted to stay on track and maintain track position.
Several restarts and cautions followed, with a number of contenders getting taken out in incidents. That eventually set up a vital restart with 12 laps left, which left Cindric leading Busch and Noah Gragson.
Cindric held the lead on the restart with Gragson in tow, but Busch went to work and on lap 190 bypassed both drivers to regain the lead. A crash on lap 194 slowed the field again, with Riley Herbst and Justin Haley coming together on the frontstretch to draw the caution flag.
Busch was able to get a good launch when the race resumed on lap 194, but a violent crash down the backstretch that involved six cars brought the caution flag back out and set up a green-white-checkered restart.
When the green waved for the final restart, Cindric was able to hang on Busch’s inside through turns one and two and managed to pull clear of him down the backstretch to regain the race lead. Busch settled into second, with Daniel Hemric, who had fresher tires then both of the leaders, in hot pursuit in third.
“I was just surprised he got as good of a launch as he did,” Busch said. “On the previous restart I got a really good launch and drove away. Then on that restart he hung with me really well and I wasn’t able to get away and he actually passed me and got in front of me down the backstretch through (turn) two.”
Coming out of turn two on the final lap Busch got a run under Cindric and the two ran side-by-side down the backstretch. Entering turn three both men drove their cars in deep, but it was Busch who came out of turn four with the race lead to cross the finish line first.
“I didn’t know how wide his car would end up being and if I was going to be able to make the pass,” Busch said. “I got a really good run in (turn) one and he got really loose in the middle of (turns) one and two, so I tried to get to the bottom. I knew I had to go because I knew the 8 (Hemric) was coming on fresher tires than I had.
“When I got to the inside of him we just had a drag race down the backstretch. I knew I just had to throw it off into (turn) three as far as I thought I could stand. I knew hopefully my tires would overdo his tires and I’d come out the other end. That was my only game plan and fortunately it worked.”
Cindric, who finished third after Hemric slipped by him coming out of the final corner, was left heartbroken after falling short of his first NASCAR Xfinity Series victory on an oval. He has two Xfinity Series victories to his credit, both coming on road courses.
“I want to win just as much or maybe more than the next guy,” said Cindric, who said he never lifted going into turn three as he attempted to beat Busch. “This race track in particular has given me a lot of grief from when I started racing. Racing in the Summer Shootout, this place was probably my worst race track and I got a lot tougher here over the years and it has been no different in the Xfinity Series, maybe more difficult for me in the Xfinity Series.
“To have a run like we did tonight makes a lot of personal strides for me but at the same time I race with my heart and my heart has gotten smarter over the years, but yeah, I want to win.”
Ross Chastain, who led 68 laps from the pole early in the race before bouncing off the wall later in the event, rebounded to finish fourth. Justin Allgaier finished fifth after struggling with multiple technical issues throughout the event.
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