As victories go, they rarely come any more emphatic or indeed straightforward than the one Kyle Busch pulled off on Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway, as the Joe Gibbs Racing driver chalked up his sixth win of the 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series season.
Busch led for all but 10 laps of the DAV 200 Presented by Great Clips to pick up a record eighth series win at the one mile oval. The laps led tally didn't set a new track record for most laps led in the event, but only because Busch himself had already set that by leading every single lap of the 2011 race. However, this weekend's victory does extend Busch's own all-time record for most wins in the series to 76 from a total of 310 career starts.
CLICK: Full NASCAR Xfinity Series race results from Phoenix International Raceway.
Earlier in the day, Busch had also dominated all three rounds of qualifying on his way to clinching pole position for the race, his final round lap of the one-mile oval setting a new track qualifying record of 25.992s (138.504mph) to claim his fourth Xfinity pole of the year and putting put him 0.275s ahead of Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon.
Busch converted pole to an early lead and was starting to lap backmarkers as early as lap 10, while Dillon dropped away allowing Penske's Brad Keselowski to take up second place before the first caution on lap 17 when Ruben Pardo (MBM Motorsports) came to a smoky halt on the track in turn 2. Busch led the field to the green flag and quickly pulled out a two second lead over the field before the next interruption which came on lap 60 for Dylan Kwasniewski (Obaika Racing) spinning into the wall on the backstretch.
The ensuring pit stops marked the first time that Busch was ousted from the front, as Roush Fenway Racing's Elliott Sadler tried a two-tyre gambit to leap up the order, only to pay for it once the green flag came out which immediately allowed Busch to get back to the front with Keselowski in second and Dillon losing out to Busch's JGR team mate Erik Jones in the battle for third.
There was a brief scare for Busch when he reported a vibration on lap 88 which allowed Keselowski to reel him in, but the issue resolved itself and Busch quickly stretched the lead again and was still far out in front when Jeremy Clements (Jeremy Clements Racing) spun in turn 3 on lap 112 but managed to keep the #51 from incurring damage against the wall. The pit stops saw Keselowski edge Busch for the front for the restart, but it made little difference: once the green flag came out, Busch simply blasted past him and resumed the lead - where he would stay for the remaining 80 uninterrupted green flag laps until the chequered flag.
By the time they reached the finish line, Busch's margin of victory was a comfortable three seconds - the only glitch he encountered all afternoon was a result of being too aggressive on his celebratory burnouts which left the #54 stopping short of driving into victory lane. If he can pull off the same sort of result in Sunday's Sprint Cup race then Busch will be heading to Homestead-Miami Speedway having booked his place in the final line-up of four drivers competing for the championship in the season finale.
In fact, Busch is already in a strong position in the points standings and has every chance of progressing with just a top ten finish tomorrow. The man most in need of an outright win to keep his title hopes alive is Keselowski, who will therefore be buoyed by his unchallenged second place on Saturday, which saw him finish two seconds ahead of Jones who had a similar margin over his own JGR team mate Daniel Suarez.
After that, it was more than ten second back to the rest of the field headed by Richard Childress Racing's Ty Dillon and JR Motorsports pair Regan Smith and Chase Elliott, the only three drivers still within range of stopping Roush Fenway Racing's Chris Buescher from clinching the 2015 Xfinity Series title. Buescher finished outside the top ten in 13th place meaning that all three of his rivals close up heading to the season finale next weekend - reigning champion Elliott is closest and just 18 points away from Buescher, but that's still a big margin to make up for in a single race unless the points leader has a disaster at Homeland and spins out or suffers technical issues early in the race.
"That's not a good day, it's an OK day," shrugged Buescher. "The team worked really hard to get this AdvoCare Mustang fast and we were good for a short run, but after that it just went away in a hurry. It's just tough. We never really run good here at Phoenix. I thought this was the best car we've had and it probably was overall, but something about this place doesn't work for us very well.
"On the points side of things, this was a good day. We'll be able to go into Homestead and if we pretty much stay out of trouble be able to wrap this thing up.," he added.
Yet time and again, upsets have indeed happened in motorsport when it's come to the crunch. Buescher might be the strong favourite to claim this year's title, but no one will know for sure until the chequered flag comes out at the end of the Ford EcoBoost 300 in seven days time on November 21.
See full race results from Phoenix International Raceway, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Xfinity Series championship standings.
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