FORT WORTH, Texas — The day began with a surprise and ended with an outcome that wasn’t the least bit shocking.
Just hours after 19-year-old Alex Bowman won the pole, Sprint Cup veteran Kyle Busch won the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 on Friday at Texas Motor Speedway, prevailing in a Nationwide event at this track for a record sixth time and fending off Brad Keselowski in the process.
“Kyle is really strong,” Keselowski said.
Busch’s latest win in a Nationwide Series race — his fourth this year — came on a night when there were eight cautions. Spinouts, collisions and debris on the track combined to kill any momentum for the drivers who seized the lead.
Following the second-to-last restart, on Lap 150, Busch surged past Keselowski and widened his advantage to 2.272 seconds by the time he claimed the checkered flag.
The true loser of the day may have been Sam Hornish Jr., the Nationwide Series points leader who was in contention throughout the race, but was forced to retreat to the garage after his No. 12 Ford collided with Jeremy Clements’ Chevrolet on Lap 141.
For Hornish, who finished 34th, it had to be a crushing blow. His car was running well and he had managed to conserve his tires.
“It’s just unfortunate that we put ourselves in that position,” he said.
Hornish’s disappointment may have been shared by Bowman, who finished 14th after beginning the race out front.
Despite battling the flu and receiving intravenous fluids before the race, Bowman won the pole for the first time in his career. He did so by eclipsing Sprint Cup stalwart Busch by 37-thousandths of a second in qualifying Friday afternoon.
For Bowman, who has impressed during his rookie season, it was the latest feat that signaled to the rest of NASCAR that he is a star in the making. Entering Friday, he was in 11th place in the Nationwide Series standings, buoyed by top-10 finishes in Daytona and Las Vegas.
Lurking behind Bowman were some of the sport’s biggest names, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski and Busch.
The question was whether Bowman would have staying power in front. He didn’t. Minutes after the green flag dropped, Bowman quickly succumbed to his older competitors, relinquishing the lead five laps into the race. Hornish passed Bowman and was running strong..
But Hornish, Keselowski and Busch, all among the early leaders, fell back to the pack as tire strategy came into play on the race’s third caution on Lap 64.
As Kasey Kahne, along with a group of other drivers, decided to swap out one of the seven sets of tires available, but Hornish, Keselowski and Busch did not. Shortly after the re-start, Kahne snatched the lead as Hornish bided his time until there was another opportunity to get some new tread in the pits.
When there was, during yet another caution, he moved from 16th to second in a blink of an eye and seized the lead on Lap 106. It appeared that Hornish would remain either in front or in contention the rest of the race. But shortly after another re-start, on Lap 141, Hornish collided with Clements and his car sustained body damage in the rear, forcing him to exit the race temporarily.
That cleared the way for Busch, who took full advantage.
“It felt good to win,” Busch said.