A decent finish is never good enough for 2015 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series champion Kyle Busch. Following a top five result in 2017’s Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway Park (CA), the Las Vegas driver knew that the Kyle Busch Motorsports team would have to do their homework to be in contention on the ½-mile upon their return.
Busch patiently worked his way to the lead on lap 63 and never looked back on his way to taking his signature bow in victory lane Saturday afternoon. His victory was a dominant turnaround from the time they arrived less than 48 hours before.
“The car was really good, having a fast race car and being able to have it hooked up to the race track like we did,” Busch told Speed51.com “Wasn’t sure we’d be able to quite get there from Thursday’s practice, but we certainly got it dialed at the right time for the race.”
“Racing in the sun definitely meant a lot for us because it gave us an opportunity to race these guys in the daylight which was better for us,” Busch noted.
Fast qualifier Buddy Shepherd had one last shot on a final restart with six laps remaining, but instead had to hold off his teammate Daniel Hemric for the runner-up position.
“The race was a little bit up and down,” Shepherd analyzed. “It seemed like the first half we just wanted to cruise and then we started to tell how the tires kind of went away after a couple of laps. We tried finding lines running right on the seam of the racetrack where the bank was all the way down to the flat, so that helped me out a lot getting the car rotating because it was tight the whole race.”
Despite coming up one spot short, it was a performance that put the California 18-year-old on the map for those watching worldwide.
“To finish second to one of the best in the world makes you feel pretty good,” Shepherd added. “I just wish we could have gotten the W.”
The short dash to the finish had Busch potentially a little apprehensive, but in the end did what he needed to do from the drop of the final green flag.
“Anytime you have late-race restarts like that people will try to throw Hail Marys and try to get something that may not be there exactly, but all went well for us,” Busch said. “We were able to get a good launch off the restart and we got out there ahead of it a little bit and were able to win the thing.”
The only driver who appeared to have something for Busch was last year’s flag-to-flag winner Derek Thorn early on. As the race went on, the handle continuously went away on the Spears SRL Southwest Tour champion’s new Super Late Model.
“It was a struggle for us,” Thorn admitted. “We had the speed, but at about lap 25 or 30 of each run we would get really tight. We worked on it mechanically. We kept blistering right fronts so we have to go back and kind of see. I kind of bounced it off the fence a couple times that just didn’t help us. It just wasn’t a good day for us.”
Some of the Southwest and entire country's best racers will now have to wait until next year to attempt at unseating Kyle Busch as winner of the Winter Showdown.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Photo credit: Speed51.com
4th Annual Winter Showdown Official Results
Kern County Raceway (CA) - February 3, 2018