Kyle Busch finds way back to Victory Lane
AVONDALE, Ariz. — Kyle Busch spun his wheels at the start/finish line for a few extra rotations, filling the track and grandstand with a fog of white smoke.
After waiting so long to win on the Nationwide Series again, it felt like the first time, and he was going to enjoy it.
Overcoming a midrace gaffe on pit road with a dominating performance, Busch led 142 laps at Phoenix International Raceway Saturday to end a 24-race Nationwide winless streak by capturing the Dollar General 200.
‘‘It was a phenomenal day for us to get back to Victory Lane, feel the taste of it again,’’ said Busch, whose last Nationwide win was Sept. 9, 2011, at Richmond. ‘‘I was almost nervous, feeling like it was my first win even though it was, I think, No. 52 in the series. It’s nice to be back.’’
Busch will be starting in the second row in the Sprint Cup main event Sunday, the Subway Fresh Fit 500.
Busch had a rough 2012 by his own high standards, finishing 13th in the Sprint Cup standings with just one victory despite leading the second-most laps. He also failed to win in 22 Nationwide races for his own team and came up empty in three trucks races.
Busch signed a deal to stay with Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the No. 18 Sprint Cup car this season and agreed to race for the team on the Nationwide circuit.
He bounced back from a rough start at Daytona in the season opener by earning the pole at Phoenix and was clearly the fastest car all day during the 200-lap race around the mile oval.
Despite a penalty for entering pit road too fast, Busch eclipsed 11,000 career laps during the race and picked up his 52d Nationwide victory, extending his own record. He’s won seven times at Phoenix, including five in the Nationwide Series.
Mark Martin, who turned 54 in January, has the pole for Sunday’s race for the second year in a row. Martin, coming off a third-place finish at the Daytona 500, became the second-oldest driver to win a Sprint Cup pole Friday.
‘‘A lot of people describe Mark by saying, ‘Mark’s on it,’ ’’ Martin’s crew chief Rodney Childers said Friday. ‘‘Well, for 2013, Mark’s on it squared.’’
Martin went around the mile oval Friday with a speed of 138.074 miles per hour for his 56th career pole, passing Bill Elliott for seventh all-time.
Martin will be joined on the front row by Kasey Kahne for the 312-mile race, with Daytona 500 winner Jimmie Johnson and Busch a row back. Johnson, the five-time Sprint Cup champion, finished 12th in his first Nationwide race since 2011.
The Nationwide Series got off to an awful start at Daytona last week, when Tony Stewart’s season-opening win was marred by a 12-car crash on the final lap that left at least two dozen fans injured.
The wreck happened as the cars came around for the checkered flag and leader Regan Smith tried to block Brad Keselowski. That triggered a chain reaction that piled up cars and sent rookie Kyle Larson’s car airborne into the fence, shearing it into pieces that flew into the grandstand.
The Phoenix race had a crash involving six cars on the fourth lap and 38 laps were under caution during the race on the slick track, but no one was injured.
‘‘It was fun out there, slipping and sliding all over the place,’’ Justin Allgaier said.
Busch led the first 40 laps, but was sent to the back of the pack — to 23d — for entering pit road too fast during a caution. He also overshot his pit stall, thinking it was the last one instead of the one before, but didn’t seem bothered once he got back on the track.
‘‘Oh, well, let’s make a race of it,’’ he said through the radio. ‘‘Let’s go get it.’’
He did, ripping through the field, up to fifth within a few of laps off the restart, past Matt Kenseth for the lead not long after that.