By Cole Cusumano
From when the starting lineup was announced on the Wednesday prior to the Wise Power 200 from Kansas Speedway, it felt as if it would be the Kyle Busch Motorsports show with John Hunter Nemechek starting from the pole with his team owner alongside him.
While it was Kyle Busch who ended up scoring his 61st NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory, it wasn’t the traditional onslaught performance we’re accustomed to seeing. Sure, the driver of the No. 51 won both stages and led a race-high 59 laps, but it didn’t seem like there was one-single dominant team.
Not only were there a good diversity of drivers muscling their way into the coveted running position, there were the most lead changes (14) since the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. The short 30-lap stages made for compact racing and granted many series regulars the opportunity to capitalize on Busch’s long-run success.
The pace of the race also allowed for frenetic and evasive offense from rising talents we’re not accustomed to seeing run up front –namely, 12th and 13th-place finishers Bayley Currey and Hailie Deegan. Met with adversity from the beginning, Currey took his No. 45 truck from the rear to the top-10 for a majority of the race, and even had a shot at the victory restarting third on the final overtime attempt. Deegan frequently made bold moves throughout the 140-lap event, forcing her F-150 three-wide through the middle and snagging positions from veterans like Matt Crafton.
Among other impressive standouts were Sheldon Creed and Nemechek, who proved to be Busch’s worthiest challengers for a large portion of the night. Ultimately, it was the winningest driver in the series that would make a late-run surge, taking competitors three-wide to grab the lead.
Prior to the first overtime attempt, drivers opted for tires to try and topple Busch, Nemechek included.
“I didn’t think that we had an opportunity to win,” Nemechek said. “I don’t think Eric [Phillips, crew chief] did either from where we were at if we would’ve stayed out there behind Kyle [Busch]. We struggled on restarts all day — we have homework to do on that side. I thought we were going to be one of the ones to beat there on tires. I feel like if we had more laps and didn’t get that second caution, we probably would’ve been.”
The illusion was given off by a mix of series regulars and Ross Chastain they’d learned a thing or two about capitalizing on restarts against Busch, as he was forced three-wide on the first attempt and relegated deeper inside the top-10, but that wasn’t the case.
OMired in traffic for seemingly the first time all night, dirty air presented troubles for Busch. The initial impression was he thought there was a transmission issue as he was fading, but as validated by third-place finisher Austin Hill, clean air is everything at Kansas.
“We really didn’t have much of an issue handling,” Hill told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “It’s just so much different when you get back there in traffic, verus when you’re up front and in the top-five on how it drives. I’m really happy with Scott [Zipadelli, crew chief] and all the guys at [Hattori Racing Enterprise]. We’re just digging really hard and putting finishes together. Sure enough we’ll get a win sooner or later.”
All it took was patience from Busch, who bided his time on the final overtime from the second row by letting Chastain and Hill duke it out. The restart king reclaimed his rightful spot of the throne by taking the two trucks three-wide for Kyle Busch Motorsports’ fifth consecutive victory.
“We’ve had some really great years and some great accomplishments as a team,” Busch said. “It’s just a true team effort and testament to everybody at [KBM]. It’s fun to have the opportunities with running for my own trucks and going out there to put on good shows, finishes, races and work with some really talented people.”
Along with this being a fifth-straight win for the team owner, it was the seventh in as many races completed in 2021 for Toyota. The manufacturer has always been such a polarizing force in the Truck Series, but to see them competing at this level has been a marvel and something that must be respected.