After spending the majority of the late stages being schooled by a former Kyle Busch Motorsports competitor Corey Heim, the bossman Kyle Busch had an extra trick saved up his sleeves to execute a final lap pass on Heim and record a monumental NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory in the CRC Brakleen 150 at Pocono Raceway on Saturday, July 22.
The two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion from Las Vegas, Nevada, led twice for seven of 60 scheduled laps in an event marred with late chaos and battles amongst series regulars battling for the final handful of spots to make the 2023 Truck Series Playoffs. All that was on the mindset for Kyle Busch, though, was recording the 100th Truck Series victory for his organization, Kyle Busch Motorsports.
To accomplish the feat, Busch had to navigate his way around Heim for the lead. Heim, however, did not relinquish the lead to Busch without a fight as he retained the spot since Lap 33 and through a series of on-track battles. Then amid a five-lap dash to the finish and after appearing to settle in second behind Heim, Busch seized upon an opportunity on the final lap to gain a run on Heim and execute a final lap pass on him with two corners remaining to rocket away and record the elusive 100th victory for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, July 21, rookie Nick Sanchez notched his fourth Truck Series pole position of the 2023 season after posting a pole-winning speed at 168.966 mph in 53.265 seconds. Joining him on the front row was rookie Jake Garcia, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 168.306 mph in 53.474 seconds.
Prior to the event, the following names that included Ben Rhodes, Josh Reaume, Dean Thompson, Ty Majeski and Christian Eckes dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to their respective trucks.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced amid a stacked start that caused some competitors running towards the rear of the field to fan out and sustain damage to their trucks, Sanchez received a push from Carson Hocevar on the outside lane to rocket ahead with the lead entering Turn 1. As Hocevar tried to make a move beneath Sanchez, the latter rocketed ahead through the first turn and entering Long Pond Straight while Hocevar moved in front of Garcia to retain second as Grant Enfinger joined the battle. As the field battled amid two lanes through the Tunnel Curve and entering Turn 3, Sanchez managed to retain the lead when he returned to the frontstretch and lead the first lap while Garcia and Hocevar battled for second.
Through the second lap, Zane Smith made a three-wide move on Garcia and Hocevar through the frontstretch to move his No. 38 Birch Gold Group Ford F-150 into the runner-up spot. Soon after, Matt DiBenedetto and Enfinger rocketed past Hocevar along with Austin Hill through Long Pond Straight as Chase Purdy and Corey Heim trailed closely behind in eighth and ninth. By then, however, Sanchez stretched his advantage to more than two seconds over Zane Smith.
On the third lap, the first caution of the event flew when Tanner Gray, who was running 15th, snapped sideways underneath teammate Kaz Grala and was barely clipped by Tyler Ankrum in the front end before he spun below the track and collided head-on into the inside wall in Turn 1. With the damage to his No. 15 Mobil 1 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro deemed terminal and leaking fluid, the wreck also took a significant hit towards Gray’s efforts to make the 2023 Truck Playoffs as he initially came into the event 24 points below the top-10 cutline.
During the caution period, select names that included Tyler Ankrum, Deegan, Lawless Alan, Cory Roper, Stephen Mallozzi, Josh Reaume and Kaden Honeycutt pitted while the rest led by Sanchez remained on the track. Among those who pitted included Crafton, who pitted for repairs to his No. 88 Menards Ford F-150 following the contact at the start of the race.
As the race restarted under green on the eighth lap, Zane Smith rocketed into the lead while running on the inside lane after receiving a push from DiBenedetto, who overtook Sanchez for the runner-up spot in the process. Through Turn 1 and across Long Pond Straight, Smith started to place a gap between himself and DiBenedetto as he retained the lead while the field behind jostled for positions.
Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Zane Smith was leading by nine-tenths of a second over DiBenedetto followed by Sanchez, Austin Hill and Garcia while Enfinger, Kyle Busch, Taylor Gray, Stewart Friesen and Hocevar were in the top 10. Behind, Corey Heim was in 11th ahead of a battle between Purdy, Christopher Bell, rookie Rajah Caruth and Christian Eckes while Dean Thompson, Parker Kligerman, Ross Chastain, Kaz Grala and Ben Rhodes were scored in the top 20.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 15, Zane Smith claimed his third stage victory of the 2023 Truck season. Sanchez settled in second after navigating his way around DiBenedetto the lap prior, with DiBenedetto settled in third as Kyle Busch, Austin Hill, Garcia, Heim, Enfinger, Friesen and Taylor Gray were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, select names that included Rhodes, Chastain, Grala, Kaden Honeycutt, DiBenedetto, Enfinger, Taylor Gray, Colby Howard, Grala, Stefan Parsons, Ankrum, Hocevar, Kligerman and Austin Hill pitted while the rest led by Zane Smith remained on the track.
The second stage started on Lap 20 as Zane Smith and Kyle Busch occupied the front row. At the start, Busch received a strong push from Heim on the inside lane to rocket ahead of Smith with the lead exiting the frontstretch. Heim then ducked his No. 11 Safelite Toyota Tundra TRD Pro beneath Busch’s No. 51 Zariz Transport Chevrolet Silverado RST in a bid to take the lead entering Turn 1. Though Heim succeeded through Turn 1 and entering Long Pond Straight, Busch responded back through the Long Pond Straight by rocketing past Heim to assume the lead as Friesen tried to overtake Heim for second, with the latter retaining the spot. As the field behind continued to fan out and jostle for spots, Busch started to stretch his advantage as he was leading by more than six-tenths of a second when he returned to the frontstretch.
By Lap 22, Busch was leading by more than eight-tenths of a second over Heim followed by Friesen, Zane Smith and Garcia while Eckes, Sanchez, Bell, Purdy and Hocevar were in the top 10.
Three laps later, Kyle Busch continued to lead by nine-tenths of a second over Heim while Friesen, Zane Smith and Eckes remained in the top five. As Garcia, Sanchez, Bell, Purdy and Hocevar remained in the top 10, Ty Majeski was in 11th followed by Taylor Gray, Dean Thompson, DiBenedetto and Kligerman while Enfinger, Rhodes, Ankrum, Chastain and Austin Hill occupied the top 20 with Crafton running in 21st ahead of Caruth, Grala, Colby Howard and Stefan Parsons trailing behind.
Then on Lap 27, a bevy of names that included race leader Kyle Busch, Heim, Eckes, Garcia, Hocevar, Purdy, Taylor Gray, Majeski, Thompson, Kligerman, Grala, Chastain, Bell and Austin Hill pitted under green. Amid the pit stops, Zane Smith reassumed the lead while Friesen, who missed the opportunity to pit with the front-runners, and Sanchez were in second and third.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 30, Zane Smith collected his second stage victory of the season and the fourth of this year’s Truck season. Friesen settled in second while Sanchez, DiBenedetto, Enfinger, Rhodes, Ankrum, Rajah Caruth, Colby Howard and Crafton were scored in the top 10.
Under the stage break, a majority of lead lap competitors led by Zane Smith and including Rhodes, Friesen, Sanchez, DiBenedetto, Enfinger, Ankrum, rookie Daniel Dye, Stefan Parsons, Tyler Hill, Lawless Alan, Caruth, Cory Roper, Spencer Boyd, Crafton, Kaden Honeycutt, Bret Holmes and Hailie Deegan pitted while the rest led by Heim remained on the track.
With 25 laps remaining, the final stage started under green as Heim and Kyle Busch occupied the front row. At the start, Heim and Busch dueled for the lead exiting the frontstretch until Heim managed to rocket ahead from the outside lane and with a push from teammate Taylor Gray to lead Busch and the field through the first turn. As the field fanned out through the Long Pond Straight, Heim was out in front of the pack with Busch trailing by two-tenths of a second.
The following lap, the battle for the lead intensified as Busch tried to gain a run beneath Heim entering Turn 1. Heim, however, was quick to rocket ahead and move back in front of Busch entering Long Pond Straight to retain the lead. As Taylor Gray tried to close in on the two leaders amid the draft in his No. 17 JBL Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, Busch tried to gain another run beneath Heim entering the first turn during the following lap, but history repeated itself as Heim rocketed ahead from the outside lane and with the lead within his grasp. Behind, Chastain briefly lost his momentum after making contact with Eckes that caused him to slip out of the top 10 through Turn 1.
With less than 20 laps remaining, Heim was leading by more than two-tenths of a second over Kyle Busch, who closed in and started to intimidate Heim for the top spot once again, while third-place Taylor Gray trailed by more than a second. As both continued to battle fiercely for the lead amid the draft, Heim continued to retain the top spot by a narrow margin over Busch, who could not execute his runs to overtake his former Kyle Busch Motorsports driver.
Then with 15 laps remaining, the caution flew for a two-truck incident involving the front row starters after Sanchez, the pole-sitter, slid underneath Garcia in Turn 1 and sent Garcia into the outside wall and with significant damage to the No. 35 Adaptive One Calipers Chevrolet Silverado RST, thus terminating Garcia’s race, while Sanchez spun sideways below the track and amid a cloud of smoke as he emerged with right-side damage to his No. 2 Gainbridge Chevrolet Silverado RST. At the time of the caution period, Heim was still leading by three-tenths of a second over Kyle Busch.
During the caution period, some that included Crafton, Deegan, Colby Howard, Ankrum, Lawless Alan, Tyler Hill, Roper, Reaume, Spencer Boyd, Chastain and Honeycutt pitted while the rest led by Heim remained on the track.
Down to the final nine laps of the event, the race proceeded under green. At the start, Heim received another shove from teammate Taylor Gray on the outside lane to rocket ahead and retain the lead entering the first turn with Kyle Busch following pursuit through the first turn as Bell and Majeski were in the top five. As the field fanned out through the first turn and entering Long Pond Straight, the caution quickly returned when Hocevar slid up the track and made contact with Grala while battling for seventh. The contact caused Grala to slide sideways as he clipped and sent Kligerman’s No. 75 Tide Chevrolet Silverado RST scraping into the outside wall through Long Pond Straight while Friesen collided into Grala before he was T-boned by Austin Hill’s No. 7 ARCO Chevrolet Silverado RST as more competitors that included Stefan Parsons, Chastain, Lawless Alan and Zane Smith, whose truck erupted in flames, were all collected.
The incident proved costly for Friesen, who was unable to continue with a damaged No. 52 Halmar Toyota Tundra TRD Pro and was scored above the Playoff cutline prior to the incident, while Crafton, who pitted during the previous caution period and was below the cutline, was able to methodically navigate his way through the incident without any damage. The incident was also enough for the event to be placed in a red flag period.
When the red flag lifted amid a 13-minute delay period, the race restarted under green with five laps remaining as Heim and Kyle Busch retained the front row. At the start, Heim, who received another push from teammate Taylor Gray on the outside lane, retained the lead over Kyle Busch, who was receiving a shove from Christopher Bell, entering Turn 1. As the field returned to the frontstretch with four laps remaining, Heim was leading by three-tenths of a second over Busch while Taylor Gray, Bell and Enfinger followed pursuit in the top five.
With three laps remaining, Heim continued to lead by three-tenths of a second over Kyle Busch, who nearly executed a move and pass on Heim for the lead before relenting and settling in second. By then, however, Taylor Gray started to close in on the two leaders as he was trailing by only six-tenths of a second. Heim would retain the lead by four-tenths of a second over runner-up Busch and seven-tenths of a second over third-place Taylor Gray with two laps remaining.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Heim remained as the leader by four-tenths of a second over Kyle Busch and seven-tenths of a second over Taylor Gray. Then after trailing Heim through the first turn, Busch executed a final lap charge and got to Heim’s rear bumper through the Long Pond Straight. He then made his move beneath Heim through the Tunnel Turn and rocketed away with the lead without making contact with Heim. With Busch pulling away and Heim unable to return the favor, Busch was able to cycle his way back to the frontstretch and record both his second Truck victory of the 2023 season and the 100th victory for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
With the victory, Busch, who was making his fifth and final Truck Series start of the 2023 season and whose latest series victory occurred at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March, notched his series-leading 64th Craftsman Truck Series career victory as a driver, his second of the season piloting a Chevrolet Silverado RST and with veteran crew chief Brian Pattie and his third in the series at Pocono.
Overall, Kyle Busch Motorsports, which first won at Nashville Superspeedway in 2010 with Busch and is the winningest team in the Craftsman Truck Series, has now accumulated 100 Truck victories between 18 different competitors, with Busch achieving 48 for his organization. The Pocono victory also marked KBM’s eighth overall victory in nine seasons at the Tricky Triangle.
“Yeah, I mean [the win]’s pretty cool,” Busch said on FS1. “We’ve been around for a long time. Not as long as others [teams], obviously. They’ve withstood a little bit longer, but it’s been fun. A great ride. This Silverado today was really, really fast. [I was] Just mired in traffic. Couldn’t find a way to make a clean move, so had to make little bit of a dicey one there at the end getting into [Turn] 2. Heim ran a great race. We needed this 100th win to get it over with.”
“It’s a monumental day,” Busch added. “It’s a century mark of being able to win 100 Truck races. We’re, granted, a small team and just one that performs in the Truck Series. We ventured away once upon a time and didn’t quite work, but we found a home in the Trucks. It’s cool to always score a victory and another nice one here at Pocono.”
Heim, coming off a victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course two weeks ago, was left disappointed on pit road after falling one lap shy of notching his third victory of the season at the Tricky Triangle. Despite the disappointment, Heim, who extended his lead in the regular-season standings to 42 points over Zane Smith, commended the battle and final overtake from Busch, whom Heim competed for, won two Truck races and claimed the Rookie-of-the-Year title a year ago.
“Just unreal,” Heim said. “I felt like I did everything right. It seemed like we had about five laps in the truck before it started tightening up really bad on me. [I] Didn’t really get the run I wanted out of [Turn] 1 and I knew [Busch]’s straightaway speed was really good. I was a little upset initially, but realistically, I would’ve done the exact same thing. A heat of the moment deal there, but looking back on it, I’ve just got a lot of respect for Kyle. I’ve raced for him for two years. He was really good to me, and he raced me with respect today. Hard racer. He didn’t wreck us to win, and I would’ve probably done the same thing. Just really sucks. I really thought we had it there, especially with seeming that he couldn’t really form up a run good enough to pass me and he sends it in on the last lap. All the blame goes on me for not doing what I should’ve done.”
Rookie Taylor Gray notched a career-best third-place result after crossing the finish line nine-tenths of a behind Kyle Busch while Christopher Bell and Enfinger finished in the top five.
Ty Majeski, Eckes, Dean Thompson, Ben Rhodes and DiBenedetto completed the top 10. Notably, Hocevar ended up 11th in front of Ankrum, Crafton came home 14th behind Hailie Deegan, Caruth ended up 16th in front of teammate Daniel Dye and Sanchez ended up 19th behind Chase Purdy.
There were five lead changes for four different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 20 laps. In addition, 29 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap.
With one regular-season event remaining on the schedule, Corey Heim continues to lead the regular-season standings by 42 points over Zane Smith and 59 over Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes and Ty Majeski.
Currently, Corey Heim, Zane Smith, Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes, Christian Eckes and Carson Hocevar are guaranteed spots for the 2023 Craftsman Truck Series Playoffs based on winning at least once throughout the regular-season stretch. In addition, Ty Majeski, who finished sixth at Pocono, has clinched a Playoff spot despite being winless through 15 regular-season events. That leaves Matt DiBenedetto, rookie Nick Sanchez and Matt Crafton holding sole possessions of the final three transfer spots to make the 2023 Truck Series Playoffs entering next weekend’s regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway that will set the 10-truck Playoff field. Crafton holds the 10th and final transfer spot by nine points over Stewart Friesen, 47 over Tanner Gray, 54 over Chase Purdy, 71 over Tyler Ankrum and 94 over rookie Jake Garcia.
1. Kyle Busch, seven laps led
2. Corey Heim, 27 laps led
3. Taylor Gray
4. Christopher Bell
5. Grant Enfinger
6. Ty Majeski
7. Christian Eckes
8. Dean Thompson
9. Ben Rhodes
10. Matt DiBenedetto
11. Carson Hocevar
12. Tyler Ankrum
13. Hailie Deegan
14. Matt Crafton
15. Colby Howard
16. Rajah Caruth
17. Daniel Dye
18. Chase Purdy
19. Nick Sanchez, seven laps led
20. Kaden Honeycutt
21. Tyler Hill
22. Parker Kligerman
23. Cory Roper
24. Stephen Mallozzi
25. Spencer Boyd
26. Josh Reaume
27. Lawless Alan
28. Stefan Parsons
29. Bret Holmes
30. Ross Chastain – OUT, Accident
31. Kaz Grala – OUT, Accident
32. Stewart Friesen – OUT, Accident
33. Austin Hill – OUT, Accident
34. Zane Smith – OUT, Accident, 19 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner
35. Jake Garcia – OUT, Accident
36. Tanner Gray – OUT, Accident
The 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series regular-season stretch is set to conclude next Saturday, July 29, at Richmond Raceway, where the 2023 Truck Series Playoff field will be determined. The event’s coverage is set to commence at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1.