Kyle Busch could have been a sitting duck, like he has been before at Martinsville Speedway.
Instead, the luck went his way for a change as he held off John Hunter Nemechek in a two-lap overtime restart Saturday and won the Truck Series race at NASCAR’s oldest, smallest track, his first victory in 31 starts on the 0.526-mile oval.
Busch, who was saving his last set of new tires for an opportune time inside the final 50 laps of the Alpha Energy Solutions 250, never got one and won despite driving the final 115 laps on the same tires. Much of the rest of the field had tires that were at least 30 laps newer, and a few got burned when they pitted for used tires expecting the same last, full pit stop, but a series of late restarts helped Busch end his Martinsville drought.
Nemechek got second and Busch’s teammate, William Byron, was third, followed by Kyle Larson and Timothy Peters.
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Busch won for the 45th time in the series and became the third driver to win in as many races this year.
“This is just a day that we’ve been looking for, for a long, long time,” Busch said in Victory Lane.
The final 55 laps featured five of the 11 restarts, and all eyes were on Busch because he opted to stay out when Matt Crafton, who was in sync with Busch on tires, headed for the pits and his last set of new tires. Busch again established a lead of several truck lengths on Nemechek after the restart, but with about 30 laps to go another caution came out, and then another with about 20 laps to go.
Crafton, on better tires than anyone, could only muster a seventh-place run because of all the yellow flags.
“That’s the chance you take when you go that far and then want to pit and try to come back up through the field, is all the cautions and stuff, or getting yourself caught up in a wreck,” Busch said. “We played it the right way, whether we dumbed into it or not.”
With 21 cars on the led lap, the cautions were critical because Busch never gave anyone a chance to make him fight for the lead.
The race went back to green with 16 laps to go and Busch put some distance between himself and Nemechek and Larson, but as the field scrambled to gain position behind them, a crash on the backstretch brought out another caution on Lap 236.
This one led to an 8 1/2-minute red flag to clear debris, and the field made several laps under caution as the cleanup continued, setting up what would have been a challenging final six laps for Busch.
Then a large crash in Turn 4 brought another caution, another nearly five-minute red flag and the overtime race to the finish.
Formula One: Lewis Hamilton claimed the pole for the Bahrain Grand Prix, edging his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by just eight-hundredths of a second in Sakhir.
Hamilton made a mistake on the final corner during his first flying lap of the third qualifying segment, leaving him fourth, but he was close to perfect in his second lap to make it back-to-back poles to start the Formula One season.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel qualified third-fastest, ahead of his teammate Kimi Raikkonen.
The qualifying format will be reviewed Sunday in a meeting between the FIA – the sport’s governing body – commercial chief Bernie Ecclestone, team principals and tire supplier Pirelli. Any change to rules during a season requires unanimous agreement between teams.
Under the new system, the slowest driver is eliminated on a rolling basis. In an embarrassment for the sport, it produced an anticlimax for the season opener in Australia as drivers accepted elimination rather than use up tires trying to better their times.