Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Those who know the history of the Royal Purple 300 also know that Kyle Busch’s victory Saturday at Auto Club Speedway was all but a foregone conclusion.
Busch finished .834 seconds ahead of Nationwide Series leader Sam Hornish Jr. to claim his sixth win at the two-mile track and the ninth straight for Joe Gibbs Racing, extending the record for consecutive victories for a Nationwide car owner at a single speedway.
With his third trip to Victory Lane in five starts this season, Busch also extended his own record for career wins in the series, pushing that number to 54. The six wins at a single track ties his personal best; Busch also has six NNS victories at Charlotte.
After the race, Busch seemed just as cognizant of JGR’s failure to win a Sprint Cup event at Fontana as he was elated at keeping the Nationwide streak alive.
“I think it’s pretty cool that you can see a team go to a race track and dominate like that in a series,” Busch said, “although it’s really, really awkward, because we’ve got nine in a row here in the Nationwide Series, and JGR has yet to win a Cup race here.
“That’s quite an odd stat, but I know (polesitter) Denny Hamlin is really good here for (Sunday’s Auto Club 400 Cup race). And I think we’re OK for (Sunday), too, so hopefully we can change that.”
Regan Smith rallied from a lap down -- the result of an early flat tire -- to claim third, with Parker Kligerman running fourth in a Toyota owned by Busch. Austin Dillon came home fifth, followed by rookie Kyle Larson.
Elliott Sadler, Brian Scott, Trevor Bayne and rookie Kevin Swindell completed the top 10.
Hornish led by more than a half-second over Busch when Jason White’s spin through the frontstretch grass caused the fourth caution of the afternoon on Lap 110.
Brad Keselowski stayed on the track under the caution and led Hornish and Busch (who took fuel only under the yellow) to the green flag on Lap 116. Before the cars reached Turn 1, however, Hornish had reclaimed the top spot from his Penske Racing teammate, with Busch in hot pursuit.
Hornish held the point until Busch passed him on Lap 126, and from that point on Busch paced the field. Busch conceded that Hornish may have had the better car, but Busch found a line -- or, more accurately, a variety of lines -- that worked in the late going.
“I don’t think we were the best car, but I got up on the wheel there at the end and just chased down that 12 (Hornish),” Busch said. “He was really, really good today. I didn’t want to see him win here in front of our home-town crowd of (sponsor) Monster Energy folks that were in the stands and, of course, the Toyota folks that were here today.
“So we got up on the wheel, like I said, and just tried to push hard as far as I could. I ran the top side for a little bit, ran him down, got there and was bale to do like a draft move by him.”
Hornish was gaining on Busch in the closing laps until his No. 12 Ford scraped the wall.
“We just didn’t have enough to be able to beat Kyle today,” Hornish said. “I ran hard and got the lead on the restart a couple of times. He’d run real hard throughout the first 50 to 75 percent of a run, slide the car around, wear it out, and then we’d catch him in the last 25 percent.
“We were doing it again on the last run. I got within about 10 car-lengths of him and got a little greedy, drove it in a little bit too hard and got into the wall. But we want to win races as bad as we want to lead the points. When there was still smoke inside the car halfway down the back straightaway, I was a little bit worried that we were going to end up with a flat tire, and I was going to look real bad. So I’m just glad that things worked out as well as they did.”
Hornish increased his series lead to 28 points over Smith, who passed 11th-place finisher Justin Allgaier for second in the standings. Scott remained third in points, 31 behind Hornish and one ahead of Allgaier in fourth place.