After knocking on the door to victory lane countless times in his five previous runs in the Prelude To The Dream at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, Kyle Busch finally broke through Wednesday night to score his first win in the all-star dirt Late Model race benefiting Feed The Children.
“This is cool,” said Busch, who outlasted strong challenges from Kasey Kahne and Clint Bowyer before finishing 2.283 seconds ahead of runner-up Tony Stewart. “This is what it's all about when you go dirt racing. It's a lot of fun. I can't say enough about (team owner) Scott Bloomquist and all these guys. They give me great racecars every time we come here and I've torn them up a few times, including tonight (in qualifying). We were able to come back through, get a good heat race, get a good starting spot for the main event and run up front there with the leaders all night.”
Busch started the 40-lap feature event in second place and dueled with Kahne and Bowyer, who together led the first 24 laps (Kahne 1-12; Bowyer 13-21; Kahne 22-24) before Busch took over the lead on lap 25 when Kahne crashed into Bobby Labonte. Busch then checked out, beating three-time Prelude winner Stewart to nab his first career victory at Eldora.
“When Kahne had his mishap, we inherited the lead and just were able to set sail from there,” Busch said. “I felt like Kahne had a fast car tonight. He was probably the class of the field. Bowyer was really hustling hard and making it work through traffic and got by him. Then we caught the lapped cars and everybody just slowed down, the pace slowed up and everybody got loose trying to slide each other. Crazy, freak deal there with Kahne sliding (into the No. 44 car of Labonte) in (Turn) Three. I don't know if he didn't see him, or what. They called the caution a little late and I bet he didn't even have time to react. From there, we had 16 laps to go and it felt like the longest 16 laps of my career here at Eldora.”
Finishing third was Austin Dillon in just his second Prelude start. Four-time World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz finished fourth in his dirt Late Model debut. Stewart's NASCAR teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, Ryan Newman, finished fifth. Aric Almirola, Cruz Pedregon, Dave Blaney, Ty Dillon and Justin Allgaier completed the top-10, all of whom will get a tractor-trailer filled with food from Feed The Children delivered to their hometown or city of choice.
Stewart, owner of Eldora Speedway, took great pride in seeing the sixth different winner take the checkered flag in the charity race he created back in 2005.
“We had another first-time winner tonight. That's what the fun part is,” said Stewart who, like the rest of his Sprint Cup counterparts, had to commute between a test at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and the Prelude To The Dream at Eldora.
“There's a lot of stuff going on," added Stewart. "Five days in a row at Pocono, and for these guys to leave practice at the end of the day today, fly here and race, and then fly back to Pocono tonight and be back in cars at Pocono at nine in the morning, I think that speaks volumes to what this event is all about and what it means for these guys to be here. I know as a promoter and a fellow driver in the Cup series, I'm honored they were that committed to doing this with us tonight to benefit such a good cause as Feed The Children. Really, ‘honored' is the best word I can think of to describe it. It's truly an honor with the week we've got this week at Eldora and Pocono.”
Danica Patrick finished 15th among the 26 starters – the last car still running in the wreck-filled event – in her first race on dirt.
“I realized early that I wasn't really in the mix, so I figured I would take the chance to get comfortable driving sideways a little bit more as I've found that that helps in driving a stock car," said the IndyCar turned NASCAR racer. "I was just feeling it out and I really wanted to bring the car home without balling it up. I sort of did that.
"It was a good experience for me but, more than anything, I'm proud to be a part of this event. Tony is definitely my role model for charity work. This is a big deal. It's very cool that he puts this on, and it's obviously his party, but he invites all of his friends and that's cool.”
IndyCar's Tony Kanaan placed 22nd after being taken out in an early wreck.
“As usual, we received great hospitality from Tony and everybody there,” said Kanaan, who was one spot behind Stewart in his qualifying heat. “It was for a good cause. We were doing much better this year. It's too bad we got caught up in someone else's wreck, but overall it was fun.”
Sources: Eldora Speedway.com, IndyCar.com