Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Teardown Tuesday: Breaking Down the NASCAR Race Weekend at Kansas Speedway

Miss any of the on and off-track action at Kansas Speedway? Every Tuesday our Amy Branch breaks down the big storylines from the weekend.

Credit: Amy Branch/Skirts and Scuffs

by Amy Branch

Rookie wins his first Camping World Truck Series trophy

Just five races into his career in NASCAR's top three series, William Byron took home the victory in the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway. The 18-year-old from Charlotte, NC, who graduates high school on May 27, started his CWTS career last year at Phoenix in November. In 2016, his first full-time year in the series, he'd already earned a third-place finish at the last Truck race in Martinsville over a month ago. In that time, the teen has kept busy racing in the ARCA and Super Late Model racing series and finishing his last weeks of high school. The break between races is tough for a young man impatient to race.

"It's tough [to wait] just because all of the truck races are so much fun and a challenge for me, given that this is my first year, that I want to race the very next weekend every time I get out of the truck," Byron said before the race Friday night.

The driver of the No. 9 Kyle Busch Motorsports truck started on the front row opposite John Wes Townley. In the final laps of a chaotic race, he took advantage and the lead, giving KBM another trophy. Given that Byron only had four previous Truck races under his belt, yet drove at the front all night before finishing in Victory Lane, it's a good bet that we'll be hearing more about this young man. There's no question that Kyle Busch is a master at finding and nurturing talented young drivers on his truck team, and Byron appears to be no different.

Busch bowls over the competition

In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway this weekend, Kyle Busch did not dominate. He led only 69 of 267 laps, though those laps included the final 36. He gained the lead because of a call by his crew chief, Adam Stevens, who decided not to pit Kyle on the fifth caution of the night on Lap 233. Kevin Harvick briefly challenged for the lead, but in the end there was no stopping Busch from breaking the curse that had kept him from winning at Kansas Speedway before Saturday.in 16 previous starts.

He was so elated after his win, he blew his right rear tire and destroyed the quarter panel above it during his burnout, and he was all smiles as he climbed out of his Red Nose Camry.

The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing driver only has two more tracks where he has yet to win, and they are both coming up within the month: Dover and Pocono. If - more likely when - Busch wins at those two tracks, he will be the only driver in the history of NASCAR to win at every active track. That would be quite a feat for the 31-year old from Las Vegas, but if there's one thing we know about Kyle Busch, it's that he is extremely driven to win and to meet his goals.

If he can win a championship the year he broke bones in both legs, winning at Dover and Pocono should be a piece of cake.

Troubles for Truex

Martin Truex Jr. was inarguably the dominant driver in the Sprint Cup race at Kansas. He led the first 172 laps, often stretching his lead out to a straightaway or more. But, like so many races in the last two years, Truex's luck didn't hold. After a round of green flag pit stops on lap 173, Truex felt a vibration. He was forced back down pit road, where his team found a broken bolt on a rear wheel. It was the second race this season that Truex led the most laps but failed to bring home the victory; he led the most laps at Texas only to see victory slip away.

"I don't know what the racing gods have against me," a dejected Truex told his team on the radio.

"I couldn't believe it," Truex said after the race. "I went around [Turns] 1 and 2, and I was like, 'The wheel's loose.' I kept telling myself that maybe it's not, maybe it's just shaking because it has tape on it or something stupid. It was loose, and I knew it right away. Frustrating, but that's how it goes. We're going to win races for sure. If we keep bringing cars like that, we're going to win some."

Rookie Madness

The rookie field in 2016 is deep and talented. Both Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott are in the top 20 in points. At 11th in points, Elliott is currently eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Blaney finished fifth Saturday, his fourth top-10 finish this year. Elliott finished ninth, his seventh top-10 finish in 2016.

"We started off the race really, really good," Blaney said. "I thought that was when we were the strongest, when the sun was up, the track was a little bit hotter. We were really strong then. Then as the night came, it cooled off a little bit, we lost a little bit of speed. I felt like everyone kind of gained grip and got better, and we lost a little bit. It took us awhile to try to get that back, but still a decent finish for us."

The Rookie of the Year battle remains close between the two, with Blaney just 22 points behind Elliott.


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