In what was both a thrilling and historic afternoon at Pocono Raceway, Kyle Busch earned a hard-fought win in Saturday‘s CRC Brakleen 150 with a last-lap pass for his Kyle Busch Motorsports team‘s milestone 100th series victory in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
Busch made a daring move low on series championship leader Corey Heim in Turn 2 — “The Tunnel Turn” — of the 2.5-mile track, got around cleanly and motored off to a 0.604-second win in the No. 51 KBM Chevrolet to at last secure that unprecedented 100th victory for his decorated team. It marks the second win of the year in five truck starts for Busch, 38, a two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.
“It‘s pretty cool, we‘ve been around for a long time, but it‘s been fun,” said Busch, who now has 64 Truck Series wins, including three at Pocono. “A great ride. Obviously, this [Chevrolet] Silverado today was really, really fast, just mired in traffic. Couldn‘t find a way to make a clean move, so had to make a little bit of a racey one, a little bit of a dicey one there at the end, getting into (turn) two. Heim ran a great race. We just needed this hundredth win to get it over with.
“Really proud of the guys and everybody at KBM,‘‘ he said, adding, “It‘s a monumental day, a century mark of being able to win a hundred truck races. We‘re a small team, just one that performs in the truck series.‘‘
Eighteen drivers contributed to that grand win total for Kyle Busch Motorsports — including Heim, who finished runner-up to his former boss on Saturday after leading a race-best 27 of the 60 laps.
“Just unreal,‘‘ said Heim, who holds a 42-point lead over Zane Smith atop the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship heading into the regular-season finale next week at Richmond Raceway.
“I felt like I did everything right,‘‘ continued Heim, who drives the No. 11 Tricon Garage Toyota. “Seemed like we had about five laps in the truck before it started tightening up really bad on me. I really did get the run I wanted out of (Turn) 1 and knew his straightaway speed was really good. I was a little upset initially, but realistically, I would have done the exact same thing. Heat of the moment deal there.
“Looking back on it, I‘ve just got a lot of respect for Kyle. I raced for him for two years, and he was really good to me and raced me with respect today. He‘s a hard racer and didn‘t wreck us for the win, and I probably would have done the same thing. Really sucks, really thought we had it there.‘‘
Heim‘s Tricon Garage teammate Taylor Gray finished a career-best third place with another NASCAR Cup Series full-timer, Christopher Bell, in fourth place in the Hattori Racing Enterprises No. 61 Toyota. Grant Enfinger rounded out the top five in the No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet.
Ty Majeski, Christian Eckes, Dean Thompson, 2021 series champion Ben Rhodes and Matt DiBenedetto completed the top 10 on Saturday.
It was Heim‘s closest championship challenger who dominated early at Pocono. Zane Smith, whose 19 laps led was second only to Heim, won both stages (his third and fourth of the season), giving him bonus points to seemingly narrow the championship gap.
That pit strategy, however, left him vulnerable in the rear of the field during that final stage, and he was among 10 trucks involved in an incident with eight laps remaining that brought out a 13-minute red flag period.
MORE: At-track photos: Pocono
Smith‘s truck was too damaged to finish the race, as was another playoff hopeful, Stewart Friesen. The reigning series champion now shows up at Richmond, a longshot to claim the regular season trophy; he is one of five drivers with two wins on the season.
“I don‘t really know who wrecked in front of me,” Smith said. “It was obviously just a matter of time with those weapons, but it‘s just unfortunate. I got hit right into it, and it just caught on fire. Our First Gold Ford was really fast. We won both stages, so fortunately, we had that. It‘s just a bummer we got put back there with those guys where we don’t belong.”
Pole winner, 22-year-old Nick Sanchez, was involved in an accident just before the “Big One” and took out his fellow front-row starter and rookie Jake Garcia in a crash with 15 laps remaining.
Tanner Gray was the race’s first retiree, finishing last in the 36-truck field. The 24-year-old driver completed just three laps before losing control of his No. 15 Tricon Garage Toyota and making heavy contact with the inside retaining wall.
Front-row starters Nick Sanchez and Jake Garcia collided with 15 laps remaining. Sanchez, the pole winner, continued on to a 19th-place result while Garcia was sidelined in 35th.
The Craftsman Truck Series’ next race is the Worldwide Express 250, scheduled for Saturday, July 29 (7:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Richmond. The event is the series’ regular-season finale, which will set the 10-driver playoff field. Heading into Richmond, three-time former series champion Matt Crafton holds a one-point advantage over Friesen for that final 10th-place playoff transfer spot.
Note: Post-race inspection in the Craftsman Truck Series garage is complete with no issues, confirming Busch as the winner.
Contributing: Staff reports