CONCORD, N.C. Joe Gibbs Racing's hold on the Nationwide Series finally has been snapped by one of its drivers.
JGR superstar Kyle Busch drove a Toyota fielded by Braun Racing to victory Saturday night at Lowe's Motor Speedway, snapping a six-race winning streak for Gibbs' cars in the Nationwide Series.
But in stretching a tank of gas the final 68 laps, Busch still ensured a JGR driver celebrated in Victory Lane for a seventh consecutive race. He was visited during the celebration by team president J.D. Gibbs.
"That JGR team has been pretty stout this year and I've been fortunate to drive their cars a couple times and it's really been nice to see how fast those things are," Busch said. "But we had our Braun Racing car really fast tonight, too. It's tough that we brought the streak to an end, but I guess we still have our JGR-driver streak.
"We'll see how it goes and hopefully Toyota can keep their run going here in the Nationwide Series."
It was Busch's fourth Nationwide victory this season and ninth overall spanning NASCAR's top three series, and he starts on the pole Sunday for the Coca-Cola 600. It was also Toyota's ninth win in 13 Nationwide events this season.
As Busch celebrated his win on the front stretch with his trademark sarcastic bow to the crowd, the crews for Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski scuffled on pit road over contact the drivers had on track. NASCAR officials needed several minutes to control the scene, and Hamlin and Keselowski initially watched from inside their cars.
When they finally climbed out, they were prevented from joining the fracas by a throng of NASCAR officials working feverishly to regain control.
The action started under caution with three laps to go when Hamlin and Keselowski trailed Busch as they weaved back and forth to keep their tires warm. Hamlin, frustrated over what he described as poor racing etiquette by Keselowski over the full 200 laps, ran into the side of Keselowski and damaged his front fender.
Hamlin said he had initially planned only to talk to Keselowski after the race, but retaliated when Keselowski first ran into the back of him.
"You throw a rock, I'm going to throw a concrete block back," Hamlin said.
Keselowski was unapologetic.
"We raced hard and that's what racing is," Keselowski said. "He doesn't like when guys race him hard? Well, that's the sport and that's what I do."
The two then spent a tense several minutes seated next to each other during the post-race news conference, which was attended by a NASCAR official waiting to escort both drivers to a meeting with the sanctioning body when they were done.
Also in attendance was Hamlin's team owner, Joe Gibbs, who scowled as if he'd just lost a game against the Dallas Cowboys, and Marshall Carlson, general manager for Hendrick Motorsports, which co-owns Keselowski's car.
The earlier contact between Hamlin and Keselowski gave Busch the breathing room he needed to stretch his gas to the end. He knew he'd be cutting it close, and a flurry of late cautions allowed him to conserve under every yellow.
"I was concerned a little bit, but every caution we had there I was fortunate I could just shut the motor off and make a whole lap around under caution without the motor running," Busch said. "That gained us probably about two laps right there, you know, doing that every time the caution came out and then I just rode around in fourth gear chugging along behind the pace truck and fortunately for us there was enough gas in this gas tank and we were able to make it."
And with Hamlin and Keselowski so tied up with each other and the damage created by their contact neither had a chance to run Busch down.
Hamlin finished second, Keselowski was third and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski's co-owner, was fourth. He was annoyed with Hamlin for the retaliation against Keselowski, and showed it by hitting Hamlin's car under the caution.
"Brad bumped him in the back just a little bit under caution, and Denny knocked the fender off his car," Earnhardt said. "I'm not happy about that, but it hurt Brad's chances of having a good run. It just tore his fender up. I mean, it wasn't no excuse in it."