Kyle Busch's recent dominance at Phoenix International Raceway continued Saturday, as the reigning Sprint Cup champion won the Axalta Faster. Tougher. Brighter. 200 in the Xfinity Series.
With the victory, Rowdy has now won five of the past seven Xfinity Series races at Phoenix, including each of the last two. He has also now won three consecutive Xfinity Series races this season.
According to Tom Jensen of FoxSports.com, Busch's streak has been authored in dominant fashion to boot:
tom jensen @tomjensen100
Congrats to @KyleBusch in 3rd @NASCAR_XFINITY victory in a row. He has led 87.5% of the laps in those 3 races2016-3-12 21:34:20
Following his fantastic run, Busch was in a celebratory mood, as seen in this Vine from NASCAR's official Twitter account:
🎉🎉🎉 #Axalta200 https://t.co/xgHwx5SC4y2016-3-12 21:41:23
He led a remarkable 175 of 200 laps and managed to hold off Erik Jones to take the checkered flag and punch his ticket to Victory Lane.
While it's easy to look past everyone else when considering the job Busch has done as of late, former NASCAR driver Kenny Wallace made sure to acknowledge what Jones has accomplished:
Kenny Wallace @Kenny_Wallace
Ole @KyleBusch is winning them all but his teammate @erik_jones has finished 3rd.3rd.2nd in the last 3 @NASCAR_XFINITY races.2016-3-12 21:34:31
Along with Busch and Jones, here is a rundown of the top 10 finishers, with full results available at NASCAR.com:
|NASCAR Xfinity Series at Phoenix Results|
Busch's triumph didn't factor into the standings since he's a full-time Sprint Cup driver, but the tight battle at the top continued, with Daniel Suarez hanging on to his lead by virtue of a third-place result.
He currently leads Elliott Sadler by eight points, as seen in this top-10 snapshot courtesy of NASCAR.com:
|NASCAR Xfinity Series Standings After Phoenix|
|10||Darrell Wallace Jr.||6||-48||0|
While Saturday's race was largely a clean one, the initial lap suggested that it could be a long day, as the caution flag flew just seconds in to the event when David Starr got loose and hit the wall, as seen in this video from NASCAR Xfinity:
NASCAR XFINITY @NASCAR_XFINITY
💚 ---> ⚠️ #Axalta200 https://t.co/mBqWFRR50a2016-3-12 19:51:17
The early caution didn't impact Busch, as he controlled the lead for a large chunk of the race's first 100 laps.
In fact, he led from Lap 6 to Lap 97 despite a yellow flag coming out for Jeremy Clements on the 57th lap, as seen in this GIF from Fox Sports:
FOX Sports @FOXSports
Lap 57 of 200: Caution at @PhoenixRaceway! Problems for @JClements51. Leaders hit pit road. #NASCAR https://t.co/AJ3sgI3u3j2016-3-12 20:18:51
A caution on Lap 95 involving JJ Yeley finally shuffled Busch back in the field a bit after he decided to take four tires on his pit stop.
Per ESPN's Bob Pockrass, it was a strategic move because his car appeared to be so much better than the rest of the field:
Bob Pockrass @bobpockrass
Kyle Busch took 4 tires while several took 2 ... he is told he is faster than the competition and be patient. #nascar2016-3-12 20:41:31
The move certainly paid off, as Busch quickly started to work his way back up through the field with maneuvers like the one captured here:
Dude's got moves. #Axalta200 https://t.co/6diy1axLo02016-3-12 20:47:56
By Lap 110, the 30-year-old veteran was at the front once again, easily moving past Ty Dillon for the lead:
NASCAR XFINITY @NASCAR_XFINITY
NEW LEADER: @KyleBusch is back in command with 90 laps to go! #Axalta200 https://t.co/JUIxkAZZf62016-3-12 20:51:06
Busch continued to dominate and his lead ballooned, but he faced a major challenge with 43 laps to go when Jones started to close the gap thanks to the presence of lapped traffic, according to Fox Sports NASCAR:
FOX SPORTS: NASCAR @NASCARONFOX
Lap traffic cuts into @KyleBusch's lead at @PhoenixRaceway. Only 43 laps to go. #NASCAR on @FOXTV. https://t.co/HpdwNQhELl2016-3-12 21:12:07
Jones was never able to overtake Busch, but he had a small window of opportunity during the final round of green-flag stops with roughly 20 laps remaining.
Both drivers took just two tires; however, Busch's pit crew allowed him to get off pit road first, and Jones simply didn't have enough car to chase down the dominant No. 18.
Busch has enjoyed a fantastic weekend in Phoenix thus far, as he also captured the pole for Sunday's Sprint Cup Series event.
The level of competition will undoubtedly be much higher in the top-level race, but the Las Vegas native's confidence is presumably through the roof, which gives him a great chance to pick up his first Sprint Cup win of the year after three top-five finishes.
Busch also seems to be unbeatable in the Xfinity Series this year, but with Xfinity regulars finishing second, third and fourth Saturday, NASCAR's No. 2 series is clearly about much more than the big-name superstars from the Sprint Cup.
No other driver stood a chance against Busch Saturday, but the surging superstar wasn't quite sure how to explain his dominance over the field, according to Joe Menzer of FoxSports.com: "I don't know, I just have a knack for this place, I guess. We've been a little off on the Cup side here, although this year we seem to be a lot better and last year we improved a lot. But the Xfinity program, we've always been good."
Even so, Busch believes he got the most out of his car, and he credited his teammates with helping to perform as well: "We didn't sit on the pole, but our teammates did. They were obviously really fast and they made me run hard all day long. I mean, there was nothing left in this car. It's all used up. Instead of having to go back to the shop and freshen her up a little bit, they're going to have to rebuild it."
One of those teammates was Suarez, who finished third and increased his lead in the points standings. Suarez was happy with his showing overall, but felt a better second-half performance may have led to a better result:
Daniel Suárez @Daniel_SuarezG
Strong car just missed it a little bit in the second half of the race, thanks to all my team for the hard work! Let's get them next week!👍🏻2016-3-12 22:24:03
While beating Busch will prove to be a difficult exercise for the Xfinity Series regulars over the course of the season, Suarez and Jones learned how to run up front with him, and that should serve them well as the year progresses.
Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.