By winning the Jeff Byrd 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol on Sunday night Kyle Busch continued his domination of racing at the Tennessee half-mile oval with five wins from five races in the last two meetings.
Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards had been consistently in the top three or four all race long whilst other drivers joined the party and even led for brief spells, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. in particular all earning a point for leading the race. When a caution was called on lap 429 – of 500 – for an accident on the front stretch Busch’s pitcrew ensured he won the race off pitlane and although Edwards got his nose in front for just long enough to be credited leader on lap 474 it was Busch who led all the way to the checkered flag.
Edwards was disappointed with himself after the race. He had been convinced there would be one more caution period after the green flag shown on lap 463 and although he was racing hard enough to tap Busch’s no. 18 Toyota he decided to wait for what he thought would be the final green flag run. By the time he realised there would be no more yellow flags he could never get close enough to Busch have a chance of winning and by then was mindful that Jimmie Johnson’s no. 48 was just behind him so settled for yet another second place. Nevertheless Edwards finished the night just one point behind championship leader Kurt Busch, who came home in seventh place on Sunday with a fourth from four top-ten finish.
“I thought I could get to him at the end and rough him up a little bit and maybe get by him, but his car took off,” Edwards said. “I just told them I should have hit him harder when I got to his bumper the first time, but we were racing really hard. His car was better there at the end. I didn't know how fast Jimmie was, so I thought, 'Man, if we starting roughing each other up, it might end up worse for us in general.' But it was a good race at Bristol. Kyle did a good job.”
Johnson thought he had a good chance of winning, and needed a good result from this race, but his pitcrew, weren’t quite quick enough on the final stop, Kyle was out ahead of him. “Kyle and I traded the lead back and forth [throughout the race]”, said Johnson, who led four times for a race-high 164 circuits. “I think there was a tenth [of a second] or so, being the leader, that you had in your pocket. The race off pit road is what got us. That track position was everything.”
Edwards’ teammate, Matt Kenseth, came fourth and with Greg Biffle finishing in eighth Roush Fenway Racing had three cars in the top eight, a marked contrast to their form this time last year.
Paul Menard driving the fourth Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was the fifth placed finisher and has started to make people sit up and take notice of him. Throughout his career he has been tagged as a driver who only gets to race because his multi-millionaire father, owner of the Menard’s Hardware chain of stores, has finanaced his racing. When it was announced at the end of last year that he was to drive the reinstated fourth car for the RCR team many were the wise and seasoned observers who voiced their belief that it was the Menard sponsorship which had bought the drive despite Richard Childress’s insistence that he had hired the driver on merit.
Between them Menard’s teammates, Harvick, Jeff Burton and Clint Bowyer have won 39 races and finshed top ten on over 470 occasions and yet so far this year only Harvick has managed to finish ahead of the unfancied driver of the no. 27. And Menard has also outqualified all of his teammates at every race apart from his first race with the team, the Daytona 500.
Granted he only finished one place ahead of Harvick at Bristol and Happy could argue that he was involved in a wreck just thirty miles before the end of the race when Mark Martin rear-ended him and drove magnificently afterwards to make that sixth place. But equally, for the second half of the race Menard was down one cylinder so a fifth place under those circumstances was a mighty achievement.
Menard currently holds fifth place in the championship table, just two points behind Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. Kyle Busch was the highest climber, his win lifting him to sixth in the table, three points ahead of Jimmie Johnson.
Juan Pablo Montoya deserved some sympathy after a splendid drive from 36th place saw him climb through the field to a top ten position only for a loose wheel to necessitate a green flag stop which at a short track like Bristol dropped him two laps behind. He then became an innocent victim of the Martin/Harvick triggered melÃ©e, his 24th place finish dropping four places down the table to eighth.
Others to have a night to forget were A J Allmendinger, Jamie McMurray, Jeff Burton, Trevor Bayne and last year’s title contender, Denny Hamlin who all fell foul of Bristol’s bruising reputation and became embroiled in other people’s wrecks plus Clint Bowyer who suffered what is becoming a common malady since the introduction of the 15% Ethanol fuel – a blown engine.
The next race is on Sunday at the Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, California.