Saturday’s Lilly Diabetes 250 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway came down to a two-car battle between Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney, with Busch, the veteran driver who is the all-time series leader in wins, making a bold move on the last lap to score the victory.
When the race restarted with just 25 laps to go, Busch took the outside lane with Blaney to his inside. As the field raced into Turn 1, Blaney was able to get the advantage and take the lead as the rest of the field battled two- and three-wide for position behind him.
While Busch was able to close the gap on Blaney and get to his back bumper, Busch was never able to make a move on the leader. A lapped car slowed Blaney’s charge in the closing laps, allowing Busch to close on his back bumper.
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Taking the white flag, Blaney led the way through Turns 1 and 2, but Busch was able to close even more off the exit of Turn 2. Making a bold move down the backstretch, Busch drove down to the grass to take the lead from Blaney.
Driving around the final two corners, Busch took the checkered flag ahead of Blaney to score his second XFINITY Series win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Busch dominated the day, leading 51 of the 100 laps, to earn his second XFINITY victory of the season, which began with him suffering serious leg and ankle injuries that sidelined him for nearly three months in the season-opening series race at Daytona.
"I just got close enough to make him mess up and made him get tight off Turn 2 and was able to capitalize underneath him with him losing his momentum off of (Turn) 2 and was able to get under him,” Busch said. "I can’t say enough about Chris Gayle (crew chief), all these guys on the Monster Energy Camry. It was the class of the field. We should have won this thing going away, but I guess we had to make it exciting. Kyle Busch cautions will always save an XFINITY Series race.
"Hopefully that was exciting down to the last lap for the fans,” he added.
Climbing from the car after a disappointing finish to the day, Blaney put all of the blame on himself.
"I messed up in (Turn) 2 and he got a run on us, my fault,” he said. "Everybody at Team Penske did a great job giving us a good car. We drove from 11th to the lead and the driver gave it away.”
Blaney’s disappointment, first expressed on pit road immediately after the race, continued as Blaney made his way to the IMS media center, where he continued to be hard on himself for giving it away on the last lap.
"Not many can say they had a chance to win at the Brickyard and gave it away, but I did just that,” a very dejected Blaney said. "I think I’m the only one in that category, so I’m leading that category but that’s definitely gonna sting for a long time.”
After the race, many in the NASCAR garage took to Twitter to try and console Blaney, including fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. While that support made the young driver feel somewhat better, it did little to ease the pain.
I'm sure @Blaney feels awful right now but he's gonna accomplish goals in his career that will soon leave today a very distant memory.
"It doesn’t really take any of the shame away from doing that, but that’s gonna be a laughingstock in the racing industry for a long time. But getting words of encouragement from Dale definitely means a lot to me,” he said.
Daniel Suarez, who was making his first start at IMS, led three laps early and finished third. Former Brickyard 400 champion Paul Menard was fourth, with Elliott Sadler rounding out the top five.
The majority of Saturday’s race looked as if it would come down to pit strategy, as a number of teams had varying pit strategies hoping theirs would be the winning call. However, when Erik Jones got into the outside wall to bring out the caution on Lap 70, strategy went out the window as the field was left to settle it on the track and not in the pits.
While temperatures were in the mid-80s throughout the day, the heat inside the cars physically drained a number of drivers, including race winner Kyle Busch. With NASCAR’s new high-drag aerodynamic package, the amount of air circulating through the car was more limited than normal, making it much hotter in the cockpit than usual.
"I’ll tell you what, it’s been a long time since I’ve been that hot in a race car,” said eighth-place finisher and Dash for Cash winner Regan Smith. "My feet were burning up, and I haven’t had that problem in probably seven, eight years in Cup races when we had different packages back in the day. Today was considerable cooler than the past couple years that we raced here, the weather was great for racing. The cars were very hot.”
Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski was not part of Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, but took to Twitter to offer his thoughts on why the cars were so hot throughout the race. Keselowski also expressed concern about the temperatures he is expecting inside the Sprint Cup cars during Sunday’s Brickyard 400.
Expecting tomorrow to be the hottest race I've ever drove in. 140+