Kyle Busch didn’t have the fastest truck and got into early trouble by spinning out.
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Busch, though, is convinced he got some unique help to secure a dizzying 97th victory in NASCAR’s top three circuits.
With the name and picture of a slain North Carolina girl on his truck, Busch recovered to pass Clint Bowyer with seven laps to go and pulled away Friday night to win his third consecutive NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.
Busch honored Zahra Baker, a 10-year-old girl with disabilities who was reported missing from her Hickory home last October. Police eventually found some of her remains in searches around western North Carolina. Her stepmother has been charged with second-degree murder.
”I had an angel riding with me,” Busch said. ”We didn’t have the truck to beat tonight. (Bowyer) did. Somehow I found some more out of it. I’m going to say I had some help tonight.”
Hours after capturing the pole for Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint All-Star race, Busch outdueled a fellow Sprint Cup regular down the stretch to break a tie with Mark Martin for fifth place on the NASCAR national series victory list and move into a tie with Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip for third.
”It feels good to be getting close to 100,” Busch said.
He has 21 Sprint Cup victories, 48 in Nationwide and 28 in Trucks.
Cole Whitt finished third in the wreck-filled race and the 19-year-old became the first rookie and the youngest driver to hold the points lead.
Former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen’s NASCAR debut ended with a respectable 15th-place finish despite a couple of scrapes with the wall in the No. 15 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
Bowyer had the lead on a restart with 23 laps to go as a charging Busch moved into second. Busch then set his sights on Bowyer, getting on his bumper with eight laps to go. Busch passed him on the inside a lap later for his first lead of the night.
Bowyer, making his second Truck start of the season, overcame a brush with the wall with two laps left, but couldn’t get any closer.
”It was too loose all day long,” Bowyer said of his truck. ”I knew in practice we were going to have our hands full.”
James Buescher was fourth, and Ron Hornaday Jr. recovered from his own spin to finish fifth – then went nose-to-nose with sixth-place finisher Johnny Sauter on pit road on a night that featured a record-tying 10 cautions and hot tempers.
”He thought I blocked him,” Hornaday said. ”I don’t know what the heck happened. He didn’t know I was three-wide.”
The hard-driving Busch, who also won at Charlotte last year, lost control of his truck entering a turn on lap 52 of 134. Busch, who had been complaining about his tires, spun out but managed to miss the wall.
Raikkonen was just about to pit, but his team yelled over his radio to stay out. He later brushed the wall at couple of times but kept control of his truck each time in the 200-mile race.
The 31-year-old Finland native won the F1 title in 2007, left the circuit two years later, and has been racing in the World Rally Car Championship for a team he owns. With a break in that schedule, Raikkonen came to Charlotte looking for a different challenge.
He started 31st in the 36-car field after a mediocre qualifying effort Friday afternoon. He moved as high as sixth place after not pitting early in the race, and later got up to fifth as he avoided the wrecks that littered the track.
Defending series champion Todd Bodine, who entered with a record-tying 12 Truck series victories on 1.5-mile tracks, hit the wall before the race was 10 laps old. Hornaday, a two-time Truck series winner at Charlotte, managed to avoid hitting the wall after an early spin.
Matt Crafton gave up the points lead after getting collected in a three-car wreck with under 60 laps to go.
Whitt, who won’t turn 20 until next month, earned his fifth top-10 finish a week after finishing second at Dover. He has a 1-point lead over Sauter.
”We’ve been fast,” Whitt said. ”We’re trying to get a win here, but the (Sprint) Cup guys keep getting us.”