SPARTA, Ky. —
William Byron didn’t have the fastest truck at the end of Thursday night’s Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 at Kentucky Speedway.
But Byron had the most important ingredient in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at the newly repaved and reconfigured 1.5-mile track. Byron held the top spot for all 42 laps after the final restart of the event on lap 108 of 150.
It was no cakewalk. Byron had to stave off assaults from both runner-up John Hunter Nemechek and third-place finisher Daniel Hemric , who dogged the race winner — and each other — for the entire closing green-flag run.
At the end, after surviving a last-ditch effort from Nemechek, Byron’s No. 9 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota crossed the finish line .190 seconds ahead of Nemechek’s family-owned No. 8 Chevrolet. Hemric was .291 seconds behind the winner at the finish.
The victory was the fourth in 10 starts this season for the 18-year-old Sunoco Rookie of the Year frontrunner, and it was the 51st win for KBM, most all-time for a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team.
The win also officially clinched Byron’s spot in the eight-driver NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase. Byron needed to exit Kentucky with a 223-point edge over the 31st-place driver to mathematically clinch his postseason spot. He leads Jennifer Jo Cobb (31st place) by 224 points, which locks his spot in the top 30 for the regular season, one of the Chase’s requirements.
“It’s a dream come true to get a fourth win like this,” Byron said. “I can’t thank the team enough.”
With Christopher Bell finishing fourth, KBM grabbed two of the top four spots, but team owner Kyle Busch had to watch the last 93 laps from the sidelines after Spencer Gallagher checked his Chevrolet up in front of him and triggered a wreck that sent Busch’s Toyota spinning into the outside wall on Lap 57.
Busch expressed frustration in the aftermath of the crash, but was more upbeat after the race when reflecting on the meteoric rise of the team he launched in 2010.
“This is a special moment,” said Busch, whose drivers have won the last four series races. “It’s been really cool. What to me makes it most special, I think, is how we’ve done it in such a short period of time.
“From 2010 through 2016, we’ve gotten 51 wins, and many of the teams that we excelled ahead of have been around a lot longer than we have. That’s pretty awesome.”
Byron felt a vibration in his truck in the closing laps but stayed on the throttle.
“It was tough,” he acknowledged. “I honestly felt like I had a right rear tire going down. With the new surface, it’s hard to get a tire to last that long. I had quite the vibration the last three or four laps.
“I was just hoping and praying that there would be no cautions. Just a great run for us. Our Liberty University Tundra was really good tonight, and we were able to stay out front that last run and that was the key.”
Though they had faster trucks in the closing laps, Nemechek and Hemric couldn’t focus solely on Byron because they were battling each other. Hemric lost momentum into Turn 1 on Lap 146 when he closed quickly on Byron’s bumper, and he and Nemechek ran side-by-side for the better part of two laps before Nemechek took the second spot on Lap 147.
Though Nemechek was clearly stronger than Byron through high-speed Turns 1 and 2, he wasn’t able to get to Byron’s rear bumper on the final lap.
“The 19 (Hemric) got down on my right rear a couple of times and got me loose, but that’s just racing, I guess,” Nemechek said. “It sucks to be disappointed with second, but I guess that’s a good thing.”
Hemric gave a tip of the hat to Byron, who had to work extremely hard to stay out front.
“The 9 (Byron) was put in a position where he had to run perfectly for the last 40-45 laps, or else he wouldn’t have won,” Hemric said. “So congratulations to him.”
Byron, locked into the inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase, extended his series lead to 13 points over second-place Matt Crafton , who ran eighth, and 17 points over Hemric and Timothy Peters (ninth Thursday), who are tied for third.
CREDIT: Reid Spencer/NASCAR Wire Service