One thing was certain on Saturday afternoon at Kansas Speedway: Joe Gibbs Racing was in seriously good form and would be hard if not downright impossible to beat. Between them, team mates Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch led for every single one of the 204 laps of the Kansas Lottery 300, and the only question was which of them would end up claiming the final honours.
In the end it went to Busch, despite the #54 suffering a pit lane speeding penalty and damage from debris from someone else's accident en route to his fifth win of 2015 and his 75th victory in 308 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts - today being the 30-year-old's 200th start in the series behind the wheel of a Toyota.
CLICK: Full NASCAR Xfinity Series race results from Kansas Speedway.
Earlier in the day, qualifying saw Kenseth claim his first Xfinity pole since 2009 with a lap of 29.204s (184.906mph). He saw off Roush Fenway Racing's Chris Buescher by 0.007s on his way to sealing his 17th pole in 288 starts and his third pole in nine races at the 1.5-mile intermediate track. Meanwhile there had been a major setback for reigning champion Chase Elliott, who hit the wall in turn 4 and spun out in the final round meaning that he was forced to drop to the back of the field for the green flag.
Having secured pole, Kenseth liked the view so much that he stayed out in front for the entire first half of the race, which saw four caution periods: the first for BJ McLeod hitting the wall in turn 2 on lap 2; the second for debris on the backstretch on lap 46; the third for more debris on lap 60, this time in turn 3; and then a caution for Cale Conley getting into the SAFER barrier in turn 2 on lap 82. Conley was also the cause of the next caution on lap 115, and this time the ensuing round of pit stops put Kenseth's JGR team mate Kyle Busch at the front despite the fact that the #54 had been penalised for speeding on pit lane under the previous caution and sent to the back of the lead lap for the restart.
After just ten laps of green flag running, a new debris caution brought out the yellow flags again. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth once again controlled the restart with their team mate Daniel Suarez now making it a JGR 1-2-3 at the front. When the race went back to green, JR Motorsports' Regan Smith hit the wall and limped back to pit road for repairs, and then a new caution materialised after series newcomer Korbin Forrister made contact with Jennifer Jo Cobb sending the #10 into the frontstraight wall. That also signalled trouble for the race leader after Busch ran into debris from the incident and damaged the right front of the #54. Repair time on pit road dropped Busch to seventh for the restart which saw Kenseth leading Richard Childress Racing's Brian Scott in second followed by Suarez, Buescher, Kevin Harvick (JR Motorsports) and Darrell Wallace Jr. (Roush) in the top six.
The setback didn't phase or hold back Busch for long and three laps after the race resumed he was back up into second, even making a play for the lead on lap 176. However, the damage to his car had done just enough to swing the momentum back to Kenseth who now had a firm grip on the race and swiftly took back the lead then stretching his lead over Busch and the rest of the field with a succession of fastest laps. Just when it looked as though Kenseth would be able to cruise to the finish, Busch dug deep and was able to close back up to make a successful play for the lead - just as a final twist in the tale emerged with Joey Gase blowing the engine in the Jimmy Means Racing #52 to trigger a final caution, sending the race into a sudden death green-white-chequered final showdown.
With Scott running out of fuel, the restart saw Busch leading from Kenseth, Ty Dillon (RCR), Suarez, Buescher, Joey Logano (Penske), Elliott Sadler (Roush) and Austin Dillon (RCR). Busch was able to maintain his track position advantage, and with no more cautions lurking the #54 was able to pull out six tenths of a second over his team mate by the time they reached the finish line.
Despite leading for a grand total of 148 laps, Kenseth had to settle for second ahead of Logano who had enjoyed a good run to the flag gaining three places in the two-lap sprint top the finish, meaning that he crossed the line in third ahead of Ty Dillon.
Regan Smith had also staged a strong comeback drive after his mid-race close encounter with the wall to finish in fifth ahead of Buescher, while Chase Elliott pulled off a commendable damage limitation effort to minimise the damage to his championship hopes by finishing just once place behind in seventh despite his qualifying mishap and having to start from the rear in the backup car.
As a result, Buescher continues to leads the point standings but his margin over Elliott is pegged to 27 points, with Regan Smith five points further back just three ahead of Ty Dillon in fourth place.
Among the big losers in the late reshuffle during the GWC finish proved to be Suarez, who after running in the top three for much of the second half of the race ended up dropping to ninth behind RSS Racing's Ryan Sieg. Similarly, Wallace, Sadler, Harvick and Austin Dillon all got shuffled out of the top ten entirely in the final minutes and ended up in 11th, 12th, 15th and 16th places respectively.
The Xfinity Series now takes two weeks off, and returns to action with the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway on November 7.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and updated Xfinity Series championship standings.
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