James Buescher found his way back to victory lane in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the second time in a little over two month, after a dominant display at the 1.5-mile tri-oval Kentucky Speedway on Thursday night.
He'd known from early on that he was on for a good night, even finding the oppressive 100 degree Fahrenheit weather to his liking while it left others flagging. "I'm from Texas," he explained. "I'm ready for the heat all summer long.
"We unloaded a little bit off and made some changes right away in practice this morning, and the truck came to life pretty good," the Turner Motorsports driver continued. "I knew halfway through the first practice that we had a truck capable of running up front, possibly a truck capable of winning.
Starting from third place on the grid, Buescher didn't actually make it into the lead until the comparatively late lap 7, but after that was only ever out of it during pit stop cycles under cautions. In total he led 119 of the 150 laps of the race, including the final 43 in an uninterrupted run.
Polesitter Matt Crafton had led for all but one of the first 26 laps which included the first caution of the night coming out for an accident involving John Wes Townley at turn 3. A spin at the same place for Todd Bodine on lap 23 led to a restart that enabled Buescher to claim the race lead and after that control the race to the chequered flag.
There was a rapid return to yellow on lap 29 for a turn 2 accident involving Jake Crum and Ty Dillon, who was having to start from the back of the grid due to an engine change, after which there was green flag racing until lap 63 when Jeff Agnew went for a spin in turn 3.
Nelson Piquet Jr. was returning to Truck competition after his sensational win in last weekend's Nationwide Series race at Road America, but any hope of carrying on the momentum to his regular championship came to an end on lap 70 when he was involved in a three-car accident in turn 1 with Todd Bodine and Justin Lofton: Bodine had tried a move down the inside of Lofton, got loose and knocked Lofton into Piquet Jr.'s truck.
Bodine said that he'd caught Lofton so fast that he'd assumed the #6 was blowing up. "Obviously, he wasn't blowing up," he said, before criticising Lofton for not giving him more room. "He's got to learn to give some space here. When you get that close and that tight on somebody, you're just taking all their air, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it."
Piquet was sent into the wall and out of the race; Bodine was also done for the night. But Lofton was able to continue after going a lap down in the pit lane for repairs and savaged a 14th place finished by the end, although it wasn't enough to stop Timothy Peters taking over the lead of the Truck championship, eight races into the 22 race season.
Lofton's cause had been helped by a new caution on lap 102 when Tim George Jr. spun in turn 2 which allowed him to get his lap back through a wave-around. Ty Dillon was also helped by that caution, completing his recovery from earlier setbacks with a two-tyre-only stop to briefly lead the race at the restart before Buescher took command again.
Buescher never dropped position again, even when a new restart was needed following a three-car incident on lap 111 for Kyle Larson, Parker Kligerman and Cale Gale. Dillon looked set to retain second place but he finally succumbed to Brad Keselowski with two laps remaining and had to settle for third place, while Buescher ended with a comfortable 3.805s over the Sprint Cup regular who was driving for his own Truck Series team on Thursday.
"We just couldn't get the speed that we needed to get all the way to the front," Keselowski said. "Second is good, but I wanted to win so bad here."
As dominant as it looked from the outside, Buescher insisted that he'd been taking nothing as a foregone conclusion inside the truck.
"In the closing laps of the race I was just thinking, 'What is going to go wrong?' because something normally does," he said. "We had some good restarts," he added when asked what had sealed the win for him: "That's something I've worked on and tried to be pretty good at. It's the best opportunity pass in my eyes."
"For James to dominate like this, it's awesome," said Buescher's Truck team owner Steve Turner. "We feel like we've become dominant on a mile-and-a-half track."
Buescher and the team will get a chance to see whether they can translate that now-proven mid-distance oval success into something equally as effective for the shorter circuit, with the next Truck Series race on July 14 at the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway.
Full race results, qualifying and practice
times and championship positions