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NASCAR AT NHMS

Century club adds member

Kyle Busch hits milestone with win

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / July 17, 2011

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LOUDON, N.H. - His place in history finally secured after a caution-filled race extended the New England 200 six laps, Kyle Busch screeched to a stop at the finish line of New Hampshire Motor Speedway, was handed a white-and-black flag, and spun away for his victory lap, leaving a trail of celebratory smoke.

This wasn’t a checkered flag signifying victory. The one Busch was waving - a white flag with 100 in big black numbers - meant much more.

Busch became the third driver in NASCAR history to record 100 series victories. He passed sentimental favorite Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with 27 laps remaining, then held off Stenhouse, Kevin Harvick, and Kasey Kahne all the way through three restarts. When he pulled away from Harvick on the final one, he had his milestone win, joining Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (106) as the only drivers in triple digits.

Actually, it earned Busch two milestones. He now has 49 Nationwide wins, matching Mark Martin for the most in series history. Martin was one of the first to congratulate him in Victory Lane.

Hitting the century mark left Busch, 26, searching for the right words.

“It certainly feels good, it means a lot. To tie [Martin’s] record is pretty awesome as well,’’ Busch said. “It’s been a great opportunity to race in this series and win that many. It’s so hard to pass out there. I wasn’t sure what would happen on those restarts, but I got a good one. Harvick was right there, but I beat him through [turns] 1 and 2, and held on.’’

The fact that Busch and Harvick were battling for the checkered flag made everyone aware of their history anticipate fireworks. Noted on-track adversaries, Busch and Harvick have been brought into the NASCAR trailer multiple times after dust-ups. The common theme: Race hard, but race fair.

That warning probably affected Harvick’s late-race strategy.

“I was told a few weeks ago that if we touched [Busch’s] car, we’d be parked. We just have to be really careful is how NASCAR put it to me,’’ Harvick said. “It’d be a lot easier to win if we didn’t have handcuffs put on me. But that’s the way NASCAR wants to do it.’’

Said Busch, who pointed out that he was not given a similar warning: “I had a great race with Harvick. I raced him just as hard and clean as he raced me.’’

Clean, crisp racing dominated the first half of the scheduled 200-lap race, but there were eight cautions after Lap 94. Busch, who started fifth, briefly fell out of the top five with 80 laps left, but quickly returned near the front. He took the lead on Lap 173 when he ducked under Stenhouse’s No. 6 Ford between the third and fourth turns.

Stenhouse was one of three Roush Fenway Racing drivers on the track, and his fourth-place effort led the trio. Trevor Bayne, the Daytona 500 champion, was in the No. 16 Ford, and led for 58 laps before finishing 13th. Carl Edwards had a valve break on Lap 56 and was forced from the race. He finished 34th.

Stenhouse was in a car with a special Red Sox paint scheme, signifying 100 years of baseball at Fenway Park. He led for 26 laps in an attempt to get his second win of the season.

“It was cool racing for all those Red Sox fans,’’ Stenhouse said. “It’s a cool-looking car, wish we could have gotten it into Victory Lane.’’

That piece of prized real estate belonged to Busch, a place he’s become very familiar with. Busch’s breakdown: 22 Sprint Cup, 49 Nationwide, and 29 Trucks wins. He reminded everybody after the race that 100 is nice, but he has no plans on stopping there.

“We’re halfway to my number. I’ve always said it’s 200,’’ Busch said. “You set your goals high, and you try to get out there and do it. If I set something I knew I could reach, it wouldn’t really be a goal. It’s off in the horizon, a few years down the road, but hopefully one day we get to 200.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com.