By Holly Cain/NASCAR Wire Service
HAMPTON, GA.: Kyle Busch earned his record 102nd NASCAR Xfinity Series race victory Saturday afternoon in the Credit Karma Money 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway – taking the checkered flag in overtime to top a perfect 5-for-5 record in Xfinity starts this season.
The winningest driver in series history proclaimed Saturday’s work to be his final curtain call, the two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion saying he would no longer compete in the Xfinity Series.
Ironically, in what should have been his biggest bow before the fans – his traditional victory celebration – Busch, 36, opted for a more subdued acknowledgment of the win. He placed the flag inside his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 Toyota and conceded the win wasn’t exactly how he wanted to add to his historic victory tally.
On the previous restart with only six laps remaining, Busch was behind his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Daniel Hemric and gave him a bumper-push forward to help the two get in front of the field. But Hemric’s No. 18 JGR Toyota instead wiggled sideways, made contact with another car, and hooked into the outside wall; the wreck forcing the overtime finish.
It had looked as if Busch, who led a race-best 98 laps, and Hemric were going to settle the trophy between themselves. A victory for the 30-year old Hemric would have been his first in any of NASCAR’s premier series. He now has 105 Xfinity Series starts and nine runner-up finishes. On Saturday, he finished 30th.
“Not quite the win we were hoping for,’’ Busch said, “a little bit of a somber win, I guess, not just for it being it the last one, but for the way it kind of happened.
“Really hate it for my teammate Daniel Hemric there on the front stretch. Just trying to get to him, trying to push him, trying to hit him and get him moving forward. We hit that bump there on the track at the same time and it kind of juked his car and he was across traffic, I guess. Ended up wrecked, which was not all how I foresaw that all going.
“But we were able to push our way through and get on to victory lane.’’
Added Busch, who won both stages and now has led an Xfinity Series record 20,088 laps, “He probably was going to have us beat, you know. Whoever got ahead off of Turn 2 on a restart was probably going to circle back around and take the checkered.’’
For his part, an obviously disappointed Hemric had very little to say on the team radio when the incident happened on track, but spoke to reporters on pit road after the race and remained upbeat despite the frustrating situation.
“What could have been, right, that’s all you can think about,’’ Hemric told NBCSN on pit road. “On the flip side, you can’t change it. Obviously, I know it wasn’t intentional by no means. I did spin the tires a little bit, we were on scuffed tires there.
“I thought we got rolling there the best we could, and Kyle just went to push me and help out momentum in the bottom lane. Right when he went to hook on my back bumper, there’s a swell there right before you turn into one Turn 1. The way the carloads there, and the bumpers didn’t align and it shot me right there.
“I know it wasn’t intentional but at the end of the day, I’m talking to you guys with a torn-up race car. This sucks.”
“I don’t know if I should have been expecting something different than what happened,’’ Hemric continued. “But as soon as he touched me I never had a chance. That’s a product of taking off in a restart zone on older tires and we’re all doing all we can.
“Just unfortunate, but congrats to those guys they’ve been on top of it and our day will come.”
Kaulig Racing’s Jeb Burton finished second to Busch by .550-seconds, followed by JR Motorsports driver Noah Gragson, who was leading the field to green following a caution period in the middle of the race only to have to drop into the pits to repair a punctured tire just before the restart. He was 31st at the time and rallied all the way to third. It was his best showing since a runner-up finish at Martinsville in early April – 12 races ago.
Burton’s Kaulig teammate Justin Haley finished fourth and Ty Dillon earned his best showing of the season with a fifth-place run. Brett Moffitt, Justin Allgaier, Jeremy Clements, rookie Sam Mayer, championship leader Austin Cindric, and Austin Dillon rounded out the Top-10.
It was a particularly impressive run for Austin Dillon, who got the call to substitute for Michael Annett in the JR Motorsports No. 1 Chevrolet only minutes before the race started. He was on the team radio asking for the name of his crew chief and his spotter just after the field took the green flag.
With only eight races remaining to set the 12-driver Xfinity Series Playoffs field, Cindric, a four-race winner, continues to lead the championship standings by 74 points over Allmendinger, and Hemric is third.
The series races next in the Ambetter Get Vaccinated 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images/NASCAR Media