SPARTA, Ky. (AP) -- Kyle Busch spent six long hours practicing at Kentucky Speedway in 90-plus degree heat on Thursday.
When he failed to make it to the driver's meeting before the NASCAR Truck Series race, officials penalized him, sending him to the back of the 36-truck field. As a small protest, Busch skipped driver introductions to spent a couple extra minutes in the comfort of his hauler.
"I was just trying to cool off," Busch said.
Besides, given the way the 26-year-old star is dominating the Truck Series these days, starting from the rear of the field is hardly a big deal.
Busch deftly picked his way to the front then held off a late challenge from upstart Parker Kligerman to win the 225-mile race and move up another spot in the NASCAR record books.
The victory was the 98th of his NASCAR career, moving him into third place on the all-time list. He has 21 Sprint Cup victories, 48 in the Nationwide Series and 29 in the Truck Series.
"He's just got that Michael Jordan flow going right now," said Brendan Gaughan, who finished third. "It's really fun to watch. Even though people don't like him ... you've got to enjoy watching him."
Though he led a race-high 61 laps, Busch figured he'd get passed at some point by Austin Dillon or Joey Coulter.
"Those guys were really running me down and a lot faster than I was, the 3, the 22, maybe a couple of others but they had problems," Busch said.
And as tends to happen when he's in contention, Busch did not.
Dillon briefly found his way to the front twice but suffered a bit of bad luck when the hood of his No. 3 Chevrolet flipped onto his windshield, forcing him to pit and fade to 14th.
Coulter started alongside Busch on a restart with five laps to go but spun his tires and slipped back to seventh.
His top competition gone, Busch had little trouble taking control when it mattered. He beat Kligerman by 0.302 seconds.
"I think that guy exudes more confidence than anybody we see," Kligerman said of Busch. "You get in that rhythm, you get in that flow, things look easy."
Series points leader Johnny Sauter endured another tough night. He crossed the finish line first at Texas last month but was dropped to 22nd after officials ruled he changed lanes illegally on a late restart.
He appeared to have one of the stronger cars on Thursday, starting from the pole and leading 24 laps before a broken axle sent him to the garage with less than 25 laps to go.
Still, Sauter managed to extend his points lead to 23 over Cole Whitt when the 20-year-old rookie got caught up following a rare miscue from veteran Ron Hornaday Jr., who got loose coming out of Turn 4 about halfway through the race and collected Whitt, Josh Richards and John King.
By then Busch had already roared to the front. He needed less than a dozen laps to move from last to 18th and was in the lead by lap 61. When chaos struck, he managed to avoid it while moving one step closer to 100 career NASCAR wins.
He could reach the milestone by the end of the weekend. Busch is scheduled to run in the Nationwide race on Friday and the Cup Series' first-ever visit to the track on Saturday.
"We'd love to do it," he said. "That's what we're here for."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)