CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Busch normally celebrates his victories by climbing on top of his race car and bowing to the crowd.
With no fans in attendance Monday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway due to the coronavirus pandemic, the NASCAR star passed on the personal tradition after driving past Austin Cindric on the final lap of overtime to earn his 97th win on the second-tier Xfinity Series.
"It kind of felt a little odd," the 35-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. "I guess I could have bowed to the camera."
After a crash involving several cars sent the race into overtime, Cindric had a great restart in overtime and overtook Busch for the lead starting from the inside lane. Busch battled back, though, driving by Cindric on the back stretch of the final lap and holding on for his 18th win at the track overall.
"I thought choosing the outside was the right way, but obviously it wasn't. I don't know," said Busch, the top-tier Cup Series season champion last year and in 2015. "Those guys put up a whale of a fight tonight on restarts. I guess I'm not good at it anymore."
Cindric said he did everything he could to hold off Busch.
"To almost beat one of the best in the business on worse tires — I never lifted, I never lifted until I knew I was done," the 21-year-old Team Penske driver said. "I wanted to win so bad."
Busch continues to add to his record for total victories in NASCAR's three national series, with Monday's win pushing the number to 210. In addition to his Xfinity Series wins, he has 57 in the Truck Series and 56 in the Cup Series.
Daniel Hemric edged Cindric for second. Cindric was followed by Ross Chastain in fourth and Justin Allgaier in fifth.
Busch appeared in control for most of the race, winning the first two stages, but he was assessed a speeding penalty on pit row with 38 laps to go, dropping him to 10th place.
He was far from done, though, and battled back through the field with the help of a series of strong restarts on the six cautions over the final 45 laps. Busch recaptured the lead with 10 laps to go, then nearly gave it all away in overtime.
"I was surprised (Cindric) got as good of a launch as he did," Busch said. "On that restart he passed me, and I was like, 'Oh, man ,I don't know if I can get back to him."
Cindric's No. 22 Ford got a little loose between the track's first two turns, though, and Busch was able to make a pass in the No. 54 Toyota sponsored by Appalachian State University's class of 2020.
"Hopefully this will lift your spirits; we won one for you," Busch said to the Boone school's students who didn't get to have a traditional graduation ceremony due to the pandemic.
Busch is in a busy stretch, planning to enter all seven races in 11 days at Darlington Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway since NASCAR returned to action after being sidelined for two months.
It was a tough night for Chase Briscoe, who outdueled Busch to win Thursday's Xfinity Series race at Darlington but finished 20th this time. Briscoe, who was looking for his third win of the season, drew penalties for an uncontrolled tire and speeding on pit road, then sustained damage to his car after hitting the wall with 45 laps to go when Timmy Hill's engine blew up. Things went from bad to worse when the right front side of his Stewart-Haas Racing No. 98 Ford got banged up with 28 laps to go.
The race also delivered of the more bizarre sights since NASCAR has returned. Jeffrey Earnhardt pulled out of his pit stall too early and wound up turning a lap with a jack wedged under his car.
It was the second of four races in four days at the 1.5-mile track. Brad Keselowski won the Cup Series' Coca-Cola 600 in overtime — the race started Sunday evening but didn't finish until early on Memorial Day — after a late caution flag cost Chase Elliott an almost certain victory. The Truck Series returns to competition for the first time in more than three months Tuesday night, followed by another Cup Series race Wednesday.