Early in the afternoon it looked like no one had anything to match Kyle Busch in Saturday afternoon's NASCAR Xfinity Series event at the one-mile Dover International Speedway. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver went on to lead for 110 of the 200 laps of the race despite a number of cautions and pit stops.
However a red flag interruption for rain changed the complexion of the race, and once Regan Smith was able to force his way to the front shortly after the final restart on lap 118 the JR Motorsports #7 found impressive pace in the clean air and was able to thwart any attempts that Busch and his team mate Denny Hamlin were able to bring to bear to get around him before the chequered flag.
Full NASCAR Xfinity Series race results from Dover International Speedway.
"I knew the car was fast, but I didn't know it was that fast until we got out in clean air," said Smith, who picked up his second win of the year and his sixth victory in 197 series starts despite suffering an early setback with a flat tyre that left him working his way through the field from the back for over a third of the race.
"This wasn't a Hail May. We came from the back to the front and just had a fast race car," he added. "If we can keep doing that every week, and get another win or two here or there, I don't know what's going to happen. I'm trying to figure out some things for next year, so wins never hurt. That's never a bad thing going forward."
In fact the rain had been the dominant story of the entire weekend, with Hurricane Joaquin passing close by the east coast of the United States meaning that all of Friday's track sessions were rained out including qualifying along with Saturday morning's rescheduled practices. As a result, the starting grid for the Hisense 200 was set by owner points with Penske's Ryan Blaney on pole alongside Busch, and the first time that the cars actually turned a wheel all weekend was to roll out for the green flag.
The race actually started on time despite more rain having curtailed the earlier final Sprint Cup practice session. Busch immediately jumped to the front and kept the lead through the first caution of the afternoon for Ben Rhodes crashing on the main straight on lap 14 and on to the second yellow on lap 23 for a multi-car incident involving Dakoda Armstrong, Ross Chastain and championship contender Ty Dillon.
Busch won the race off pit road to pick up the lead again at the restart on lap 33. Another of the championship contender, Dillon's Richard Childress Racing's Brian Scott, also came unstuck during the next stint when he slowed on track after an inner valve stem knocked out on right front tyre causing major bodywork damage to the #2 forcing it to go the garage area where Dillon's #3 was also still undergoing repairs.
A competition caution on lap 65 did nothing to oust the #54 from the front at the restart after a round of pit stops, and Busch proceeded to pull out a two second lead over the rest of the field led by his JGR team mate and fellow Cup series regular Denny Hamlin. The race had just passed the halfway point on lap 100 - making the race 'official in the event of a stoppage - when raindrops were reported in turn 3; moments later, Stanton Barrett spin on the backstraight and took out Cale Conley in a hard, fiery hit in the process to bring out a new caution.
This time Busch was not able to retain the lead off pit road after Elliott Sadler gambled on two tyres in the hope that the increasing rain might cause the race to be stopped without resumption. It looked as though this strategy might pay off as the red flags were indeed brought out and the cars parked on pit road for half an hour; but then the rain abated, the track was dried and the cars refired and sent back out. Sadler lasted less than half a dozen laps out in front before the tyre gambit bit him hard, allowing Smith to push past the JGR pair of Hamlin and Busch and take the lead for the first time.
"I've never had much luck with the rain," sighed Sadler after eventually finishing in ninth place. "I knew we would be in trouble with two tyres. I got a really good restart and tried to hold them off. We thought more rain might have been coming. I was trying to hold Regan off, but they were just too good on four tyres."
The top three of Smith, Hamlin and Busch were now locked in a tight battle for the lead, and with 25 laps to go the trio had pulled clean away from the rest of the field and just 13 cars were left on the lead lap. However the real race was against the fading light since there are no floodlights at Dover to allow after-dark racing: time was literally running out to get the final laps in the books, and fuel was being stretched to its very limit as well.
Thanks to a lack of any further interruptions, there was just enough light, fuel and dry weather to see the race to the finish line - and Smith has succeeded in holding off the brace of JGRs all the way to the finish, a 78-lap stint at the front against the two cars that had looked in unbeatable form early on. Pole sitter Blaney was the best of the rest in fourth ahead of Kyle Larson, finishing almost ten seconds away from the leading trio.
In the championship standings, Chris Buescher leads the point standings by 24 points over Chase Elliott after finishing in eighth place at Dover, one place behind Elliott. However Smith's victory this week jump starts his title bid and puts him into third place just 12 points behind Elliott while Dillon slips to fourth place three points in arrears after his early misfortune.
The next race in the Xfinity Series is the Drive for the Cure 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on October 9.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and updated Xfinity Series championship standings.
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