Kyle Busch dominated the History 300 Nationwide Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway this weekend and always looked odds-on to claim what would be an appropriately historic and record-breaking win. But in truth it wasn't quite as easy at the end as he would ideally have liked, as he came under pressure late in the race after a strategy call left him on older rubber and locked in a tight battle with his old sparring partner Kasey Kahne that kept the result in doubt right to the final minute.
Austin Dillon had claimed pole position for the race, his fourth pole in 54 Nationwide starts (his first of 2013) after setting a time just two hundredths of a second faster than Kyle Busch, but it was Busch who quickly moved into the lead and cruised into the distance while Brian Vickers took over from Joey Logano in second until the first caution on lap 39 for debris in turn 3, possibly dropped from the wounded car of Chris Buescher who has brushed the wall earlier and needed pit lane assistance for repairs.
Sam Hornish Jr. wrested the lead from Busch before a return to yellow for spins on the backstretch for Johanna Long and Robert Richardson Jr., and the restart allowed Busch to take control again with his Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Vickers falling in as his wingman once more which lasted to lap 87 when a new debris caution came out for debris in turn 4 after John Wes Townley brushed the wall. Busch led another long green stint that passed the midway point of the race and extended through the final round of pit stops, Busch stopping later than most on lap 148 and resuming in the lead while Vickers reported a vibration and lost places to Hornish and Kasey Kahne.
Another debris caution on lap 153 allowed Vickers to pit again albeit at the expense of dropping to 15th for the restart. Hornish led briefly at the restart before being passed on the low-side by Busch and Kahne and on the high-side by a flying Kyle Larson, and there was a fifth caution on lap 165 when Travis Pastrana spun out of turn 2 into a heavy head-on impact with the inside retaining wall, the crumpled star-spangled #60 then having its tailed clipped by Joe Nemechek who was having to avoid John Wes Townley who'd spun in sympathy into the outside wall.
While everyone was good on fuel, many of the leaders wanted to take on fresh tyres to see if they could find on Busch and Kahne who opted to stay out: Larson took two tyres only and dropped to ninth while Hornish grabbed four and resumed in 11th. Hornish survived a violent bobble at the restart while being passed on the low-side by Matt Kenseth, but sustained performance-compromising bodywork damage to the #12 before a spin for Reed Sorenson in turn 2 put the track back under caution on lap 178 and left Busch and Kahne increasingly compromised on their older tyres.
Busch opted for the outside line and got a good push from Kevin Harvick at the restart on lap 183, but there was a rapid return to yellow as Dakoda Armstrong spun out of 16th place leaving him with it all to do again at the next restart on lap 187. Busch and Kahne belief their worn rubber to quickly pull out more than two second over the pursuing pack, Logano and Larson taking up the chasing positions.
As it became clear that there were no further cautions in the offing, there was little that they or anyone else could do about the leaders. They could only watch on from afar as Busch and Kahne engaged in a tense cat-and-mouse battle, Busch having to protect his line and do whatever he could to take the clean air off the nose of the #5. He achieved it to perfection, and once that was accomplished the #54 pulled away and made it a safe margin by the time the chequered flag came out at the end of the 200-lap, 300-mile affair.
"It's a little tougher than you think," insisted Busch after his 186-lap domination. "You certainly have to stay focused all the time. There is never really a moment where you think, 'Oh, this is easy, I'm waiting for someone to come race me.' I would rather no one ever come up and race me, but I know that's boring for the fans and for the media to see.
"I thought there at the end, Kasey didn't get by me and we really didn't dice it up or race that much, but he caught me. I had to change my line to a line that I hadn't run all race long and it proved to work to my benefit," he added. "That was good. Also, it's a lot of fun to go out there and lead that many laps and run up front and just see all the people in the grandstands telling you that you're number one every lap - to then take home the chequered flag at the end of the day."
With this win - his sixth of the season - Kyle Busch sets a new record of 57 victories in the Nationwide Series, breaking the tie he'd had for most wins with Mark Martin. He also set a new record for the most number of wins at Charlotte by a driver in the Nationwide Series - this was his seventh victory here in 20 starts at the 1.5-mile superspeedway.
"This one means a lot to beat a guy like Mark Martin, Jack Ingram and all the Nationwide guys that have set previous records before," said Busch in victory lane afterwards. "This is cool for us. It's great for this team: all of Joe Gibbs Racing and especially for Monster Energy and Toyota."
Better yet, Busch had managed it without making contact with Kahne at any point, after the two had seen an uncommon number of incidents between them of late in which Busch had managed to wreck one or both of their races in Sprint Cup competition in 2013. Kahne said that the clean run was no big deal and just a case of 'normality restored' between the pair.
"It really doesn't mean anything to me because this is how we've always been in the past," explained Kahne. "We just had three deals this year that none of them were intentional, they just happened. Today we raced like I would expect any other time."
This week's race also saw the first outing for Michael Annett since he was injured in a crash at the season opener
at Daytona three months ago after an absence of eight races. He finished in 17th place and was still on the lead lap despite being involved in late-race collisions with both Hornish and Armstrong.
“I think we covered everything I missed in eight races in one race, speeding penalty, getting hit in the left rear up to the wall, coming in and fixing damage, wrecking somebody on the backstretch,! he said. "We don't like finishing 17th but for the first race back it was good to get the vocabulary back between everybody."
In the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings, Regan Smith continues to leads the point standings after a quiet race at Charlotte saw him finish in ninth place, three spots ahead of Sam Hornish Jr. who fell back to 12th in the final run. Hornish is now 29 points adrift of Smith in the points.
See full race results
and Nationwide Series championship standings