Ryan: Bond between Kyle Busch and Adam Stevens already has passed many tests


Kyle Busch calmly walked through the Watkins Glen International garage Sunday afternoon, debriefing on the myriad factors that kept him out of victory lane in the Cheez-It 355.

There was a rash of caution flags. Followed by a surprising lack of them.

Then there was the decision to stand down from chasing winner Joey Logano and save fuel for a scenario that never materialized.

The order came from crew chief Adam Stevens, who stood shoulder to shoulder with Busch as they exited the back gate of the road course’s Sprint Cup work area.

It was a symbolic show of solidarity for a formidable duo that somehow has been on the losing end of fuel-strategy plays in consecutive races.

Watkins Glen was the kind of character test that can fray a crew chief-driver relationship in NASCAR beyond repair, requiring dizzying leaps of faith and logic and a firm reliance on trust and communication.

It naturally conjures analogies to a marriage, and the partnership heading the No. 18 Toyota already has endured – and overcome – some of the tribulations that might face any longtime couple.

Separation. Stress. Second-guessing.

Though Busch’s success (four wins) surely has helped since his return from missing the first 11 races with a broken right leg and fractured left foot, it’s clear the bond with Stevens has been galvanized by the adversity of their first year in Cup together.

“I’m with Adam 100 percent of the way all the time,” he said. “He’s doing a great job right now.  We’ve obviously got some things clicking, and he knows what he’s doing, so for me to argue that point doesn’t make any sense.”

If he would have been more upset about how he finished second, few would have blamed him.

With about 20 laps remaining Sunday, Busch was told to begin conserving fuel because Stevens had a hunch: With leader Kevin Harvick and several other drivers attempting to stretch their fuel for what seemed an astronomically optimistic length, there would be a rash of cars running dry near the checkered flag.

That would lead to late-race mayhem and a caution flag that would set up a green-white-checkered finish.

Busch didn’t have enough fuel to last through a potential overtime. So Stevens bet on the come and pulled the reins back on his driver, who had made his final pit stop on the same lap as Logano.

As the No. 22 Ford pulled away, Busch agonizingly feathered the gas pedal with the knowledge that the emphasis on fuel economy would cost him a shot at the win if the race stayed green – which it did.

“I could’ve passed (Logano),” he said. “I felt like I was better than he was, but my crew chief called in scared on the fuel situation from last week, and I don’t blame him. We definitely didn’t want to run out again. We wanted to make sure we could be there at the end.”

There has been an outsized amount of focus this week on Busch’s word choice, implying that “scared” was some sort of veiled shot at his crew chief. That misses the fact that Busch was smiling as he said it, but it also ignores the point that there’s a new layer to the Joe Gibbs Racing driver this season.

This isn’t a rehash of the “New Kyle Busch” narrative that became so tired, it produced Twitter memes and parody accounts. There always will be a churlish and petulant side to his personality (witness his postrace Xfinity interview at New Hampshire). It’s actually part of his appeal.

As a new father, Busch, 30, naturally has a different outlook on life in the wake of recovering from injuries that he fretted might prevent him from racing again.

But the reason that he is simpatico with Stevens simply is because they have been through so much the past six months. It is keeping them on the same page — even when they lose a very winnable race.

Stevens profusely apologized to Busch on the radio afterward. It probably was appreciated, but it wasn’t necessary. Attaining a top-30 ranking in the points is the primary goal because it ensures Busch will make the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The runner-up at Watkins Glen put Busch within the top 30 by six points – a week after he’d suffered a 23-point swing at Pocono Raceway by running out of fuel on the final lap and remaining 13 points outside the top 30.

With four races remaining in the regular season, he is over the hump and provisionally in the Chase.

“We couldn’t afford running out of gas like we did last week and taking home an even worse finish,” Busch said. “I’m sure that was weighing on Adam’s mind and just playing it a little bit more cautious, which is fine.”

As they worked through Sunday’s disappointment, Busch and Stevens were fine, too.

Given all they’ve been through, that’s worth remembering.


COTA Xfinity Series results

COTA Xfinity results
Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

AJ Allmendinger led 28 of 46 laps Saturday to win the Xfinity Series race at Circuit of the Americas for the second year in a row.

Allmendinger held off William Byron to score his first victory of the year and 16th in the Xfinity Series.

MORE: COTA Xfinity results

Ty Gibbs placed third and was followed by rookie Sammy Smith and Justin Allgaier.

Smith, Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, who placed sixth, and Sam Mayer, who finished seventh, will be eligible for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash next weeked at Richmond after being the top four full-time Xfinity finishers Saturday.



AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at COTA

AJ Allmendinger Xfinity COTA
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

AJ Allmendinger overcame damage from a restart to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

This is the second year in a row he has won this race. It is Allmendinger’s first victory of the season and 16th career Xfinity win.

MORE: COTA race results 

William Byron, driving for Hendrick Motorsports, finished second. Ty Gibbs placed third, Sammy Smith fourth and Justin Allgaier fifth.

Smith, Allgaier, sixth-place finisher Daniel Hemric and seventh-place finisher Sam Mayer — the top four full-time Xfinity drivers — will be eligible for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus next week at Richmond Raceway.

Allmendinger won the first stage and then pitted. When a caution came out shortly, it put him 21st in the field. On the Lap 20 restart, his car suffered damage when he was hit going into Turn 1.

Allmendinger worked his way through the field and took the lead from Sheldon Creed on Lap 33 when they made contact and Creed spun. Creed fell back to 23rd and finished the 46-lap race in ninth.

Stage 1 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Stage 2 winner: Sheldon Creed

Who had a good race: Josh Berry placed eighth after suffering damage to the front of his car on the first corner of the first lap. It is his fifth consecutive top 10. … Riley Herbst‘s 10th-place finish gives him his ninth consecutive top 10.

Who had a bad race: Austin Hill, who had won three of the first five races this season, had mechanical issues early and finished 37th in the 38-car field.

Next: The series races April 1 at Richmond Raceway (1 p.m. ET on FS1)

COTA Truck race results: Zane Smith wins


Reigning series champion Zane Smith won Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas for the second year in a row.

The victory is Smith’s second of this year.

MORE: COTA Truck race results

MORE: Truck points after COTA

Kyle Busch finished second and was followed by Ty Majeski, Tyler Ankrum and Ross Chastain.

The key moment came when Parker Kligerman‘s truck came to a stop on the frontstretch at Lap 28. Smith, running second, made it to pit road before it was closed. Busch, who was leading, had already passed pit road entrance.

Smith gained the lead with the move, while Busch had to pit under the caution and restarted 16th. Smith was able to build a lead and beat Busch by 5.4 seconds.

Stage 1 winner: Christian Eckes

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Who had a good race: Ty Majeski’s third-place finish is his best of the season. … Tyler Ankrum’s fourth-place finish is his best of the year. … Corey Heim has finished sixth two races in a row. … Rookie Nick Sanchez finished seventh, giving him back-to-back top 10s.

Who had a bad race: Parker Kligerman was running third when electrical issues forced him to stop on track just after the end of the second stage. … After winning the first stage, Christian Eckes had mechanical issues and had to pit for repairs, costing him several laps.

Notable: Front Row Motorsports has won the Truck COTA race all three years. Todd Gilliland won the race in 2021 and Zane Smith has won it the past two years.

Next: The series races April 1 at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225
COTA winner Zane Smith’s truck catches fire after he did his burnout on the frontstretch. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

COTA Cup starting lineup


Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, who has won two of the first five races of the season, will lead the Cup field to the green flag Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron will be joined on the front row of the starting lineup by Tyler Reddick, the only driver to win multiple races at road courses last year.

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Austin Cindric starts third and is joined in the second row by Jordan Taylor, who is filling in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick car.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.