Kyle Busch Motorsports recorded its first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory, in just its seventh series start, in Friday's Virginia 529 College Savings 250 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. Kurt Busch, making his second start for KBM and 15th NNS start of his career, exhibited why he is still one of NASCAR's most competitive drivers, winning a hard fought, side-by-side battle with Denny Hamlin. Hamlin, who erased a two-second margin over the final 20 laps, was unable to complete a last-lap pass on his Sprint Cup Series teammate's older brother before the two drivers reached the start-finish line.
The 0.062 margin of victory was the smallest winning margin in RIR history. Not only did Busch, the past Sprint Cup Series champion, accomplish a win for himself in his first start in a Nationwide Series car at RIR, and on a one-mile short track, but he also helped his brother's No. 54 Monster Energy team reach their first company win as a Nationwide Series competitor. Coincidentally, the joyous win was celebrated on the 10th Anniversary of team primary sponsor Monster Energy, also experiencing their first victory in the NASCAR arena.
The fledgling team had a good 'energy' about them from the beginning of a long day that included a practice session, a qualifying effort and the evening race all within a 12-hour span. A one-time morning practice run offered the team ample time to work with Kurt and prepare the car so that he had a good comfort level for the 250-lap event. For the first time this season, the No. 54 Monster Energy team saw itself on top of the speed charts and competing amongst the top-five competitors through most of the practice time, which offered good insight into race setup. Ultimately, the same four race teams the KBM NNS entry battled throughout practice (cars 18, 33, 6 and 12), became the same competitors that raced around the winning Camry driver at the end of the night.
Upon a 10th-place qualifying effort, the KBM team began the Virginia 529 College Savings 250 with their second top-10 start of the season. Within 15 laps, the elder Busch advanced the team's position to sixth, however started reporting high temperature readings on the car's engine gauges. With an initial caution-flag period on lap 23 of the 250-lap event, team owner Kyle Busch talked on the radio with his driver and brother, offering advice from his vantage point within the team's pit area.
Busch did not pit on this cycle, and restarted the race from the yellow-flag period in the sixth position. He then worked the Monster Energy Camry into the second spot in the field before the second caution-flag period halted the field again on lap 67. At this point in the race, the No. 54 Toyota was pacing lap times faster than race leader Kevin Harvick in the No. 33.
This caution period provided the team with their first visit to pit road and adjustments for the car. Tire rubber buildup was found on the car's front grill and removed, therefore helping to ease the higher engine temperatures described by the veteran driver early in the race. Upon race restart on lap 75, fresh tires and the proper changes to the car gave Busch what he needed to overtake the lead in the race. On lap 77 the Monster Energy team was on top of the board leading the first of what would become 68 total laps led in the NNS event.
The Monster Energy team athlete battled again with the No. 33 car, among the top race position for the next 80 laps, which included another cycle to pit road for fresh tires and slight adjustments to the car setup. Just as Busch proclaimed, "I'm starting to settle in now," his momentum strengthened and he passed the race leader for the second time of the night on lap 167.
The team knew optimism was in the air when the 33-year-old Las Vegas, Nev. native started quoting Tom Cruise from "Days of Thunder" over the team radio. With smiles on their faces, crew members knew the positive energy they experienced earlier in the day, throughout a positive practice session, was paying off for what would be continued success through the race.
One last pit sequence of the race, this time through green-flag race conditions, saw the team lose the race lead, but only for a few laps while the remaining 42 race competitors cycled through their pit stops. Busch appeared to maintain a comfortable lead, lengthening through the final 40 laps of the race, at one point over two seconds ahead of the second-place contender. Then suddenly, in the rear-view mirror, appeared a familiar car number to the Busch family. In what used to be the NNS ride for brother Kyle Busch, the No. 18 JGR Camry, driven this time by Denny Hamlin, was barreling down on the KBM No. 54 race leader.
What seemed like an eternity to race fans and to the crew of the young KBM team, ultimately were minutes of very good race car driving by both competitors. The No. 18 and the No. 54 leaned on each other through the turns and raced each other cleanly as the final laps of the race expired. In a breathtaking final lap and drag race sprint to the finish line, Kurt Busch and his brother's No. 54 Monster Energy hot rod narrowly edged out Denny Hamlin for the race winner claim.
As he exited the car post-race an excited Kurt Busch exclaimed, "Man, it was an amazing run for us tonight just to be in position after our rough start to this season. To get KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) its first win -- this is unbelievable. This team with (Mike) Beam (crew chief) and (Rick) Ren (General Manager) -- all these guys have been working so hard. It's that love that you have as a family member and I've driven for guys like (Roger) Penske and guys like (Jack) Roush, but when you're driving for a guy named Busch you've got to be on it and I'm happy to deliver tonight. Unbelievable run with (Denny) Hamlin -- I didn't think he was going to catch us. I was pacing us and then boom. He just came out of nowhere at the end.
I slipped up going into (turn) three coming to take the white flag and I was on the outside at that point. I just had a flashback to an IROC (International Race of Champions) that I lost here before where I was on the inside. I said, 'You know what, I've got to hold him (Denny Hamlin) down. I've got to pinch him a little bit and it's going to be rough coming off turn four,' and we held off Denny. It's great to race a guy like that where here he's using his head and we can both rough up our cars, but still finish the race one, two."
When asked what his brother and team owner Kyle Busch said to him in the winner's circle, Kurt responded, "He just couldn't believe that we got this car to victory lane. You could just feel his hand trembling of, 'I'm an owner. I don't know what to think,' but he knows he could have driven this car today as well."
KBM owner Kyle Busch commented post race, "People don't realize but this level of racing is hard! You think you can jump into the series and pull off a win, but it doesn't happen as easily as you think. It takes a lot of time, investment and people which we always could use more of. On the Cup side, you have large buildings with multiple staff and engineers in every department. I think in our shop we have one engineer - or one for the trucks and one for the NNS, so two total. KBM is building their own chassis and hanging their own bodies. We don't have the resources of a Cup team so we operate with the assets we have and work hard to make it successful. It really gives me an appreciation for those big teams competing in the top series, and how hard it is to pull off that win."
Kyle continued, "Kurt reminded me that my first Nationwide Series win was here at RIR so this place is forever going to be special to both of us."
No. 54 team crew chief Mike Beam also commented post race, "Kyle said we'd have a victory by race ten and I wasn't sure we could accomplish that, but this is race seven - and I'm glad to be made a liar. In my 40 years of racing I have to say this win is special for me. This is a hard working bunch of racers. I've never seen so much effort put into building cars, we actually have to tell them to go home at night. I recently counted back and since December we've averaged building 10 new cars in 120 days. That's such hard work. But the team Kyle has put together is so dedicated that it's an honor for me to be a part of them."
With this win, the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 54 NNS entry gained three spots in the Series Owner's Point Standings, moving to 12th, 88 points out of first place through seven races completed.
The victory for Kurt Busch at Richmond International Raceway (RIR) was the fourth of his career in the Nationwide Series and registered as the third time in his NNS career when Busch accomplished a victory from his first venue start, last completing the feat in 2006 at Texas Motor Speedway and 2011 at Watkins Glen International.
Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Sam Hornish Jr. completed the top-five finishers. There were three caution periods for 20 laps of the race along with thirteen lead changes across six drivers. Kurt Busch led three times during the race for 68 laps, including the final 29 which yielded him the victory.
The next event on the NNS schedule is the Aaron's 312 at the Talladega (Al.) Superspeedway with the race television broadcast starting at 3:00 p.m. EST on ABC and the radio broadcast on MRN at 2:45 p.m. EST.
Kyle Busch will return behind the wheel of his team's No. 54 Monster Energy Camry in hopes of bringing home the next KBM victory, now that his brother has started the winning wheel rolling.