After Kurt Busch's dramatic victory for Kyle Busch Motorsports on Friday in the Nationwide Series, his younger brother, the eponymous team-owner Kyle Busch, wrapped up a perfect weekend at Richmond by defeating Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the premier Sprint Cup. It was Kyle's fourth consecutive victory in the spring event at Richmond, and lifted him back into Chase contention after a trying season so far with only two top-10 finishes.
“This thing was so fast if I could abuse the tires, but I knew in long runs you couldn't do that,” Busch said in Victory Lane. “And we always kind of struggled in the long run, but had a lot in reserve on the short run. So, that was really cool. This M&M's Camry was awesome!”
The race turned on lap 307 during a period of green-flag pit-stops, when Jeff Burton smacked the wall to bring out the penultimate caution. After a rough start to the season, Carl Edwards appeared on course for a good result, having started second and led the most laps (211). However the Roush-Fenway Racing no. 99 was unable to make it down the lane before the caution flag flew, leaving him marooned out front on old tyres. To make matters worse, Edwards was then penalised for jumping the restart, dropping him out of contention. He would eventually finish a furious 10th.
“I don’t think its right. I don’t agree with it,” said Edwards. “The chance to win that race was taken from us. This whole thing is very frustrating. I don’t feel like we did the wrong thing.”
Amid conflicting information, Edwards had erroneously been told that he was the leader, and by overtaking Tony Stewart, whose duty as the leader it was to dictate the pace, before the start-finish line, Edwards received the penalty.
“I was on the outside and thought Tony Stewart was the leader on the inside,” Edwards explained. “NASCAR told my spotter about three seconds before the restart that the 99 was the leader. They put us on the scoreboard as the leader and I realized I was at a disadvantaged position on the outside land and NASCAR made a little mistake [the leader usually starts from the inside.]”
“At the time, I obviously didn’t feel that we did [jump the restart],” his crew chief Bob Osbourne said. “But looking at the video, we were too aggressive on the restart. That’s all there was to it.”
In a further controversy, Jimmie Johnson was ordered to serve a penalty when his mechanics allowed the right-rear wheel to run loose on pit-road. After starting 27th, Johnson had marched to the front and had been on course to contend for victory before the penalty dropped him to the tail end of the lead lap. Nevertheless, he made rapid progress and charged back to 6th at the flag.
“We had a couple little incidents there, but things happen – it's racing,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately we had a tire get away from us. But the good news is we had a really fast race car, and this track has been hit or miss for us. To have a car that was that strong and passed that many cars all night long, I'm proud of the effort.”
With two of the main contenders out of the running, it was left for Stewart and Busch to battle for victory, with Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports team-mates Kasey Kahne and Earnhardt trailing behind. Given Busch's problems on the long runs, Stewart was seemingly on course for his third victory of the season, and had built up a huge lead when the yellow flags flew with just 14 laps to go for an errant water bottle on track. Busch emerged from the pits just ahead, and as expected, Stewart was unable to get up to speed, allowing Earnhardt to bypass him on the bottom. With not enough time to break into a rhythm, Stewart was left to settle for disappointed third, ahead of Kansas victor Denny Hamlin and Kahne.
“We lost it on a plastic bottle on the backstretch,” Stewart said. “For a caution for a plastic bottle, so you tell me how you’d feel? It's hard to feel good about that one.
“We threw it away on pit road. I don't know what their malfunction was, but I'm pretty ticked off about it.”
While Stewart was fuming, Busch was delighted by the opportunely timed final caution, which brought him back into contention to continue his Richmond streak.
“I don't know where that last caution came from, but that was our saving grace today,” Busch said.
“It was a gift. Man, I just don't know where it came from or what it was or anything, but it doesn't matter. We came down pit road and Dave Rogers [crew chief] and these guys went to work and gave me a great pit stop – got me out front. Gave me the lead so I could restart the race how I wanted to. That was the win right there.”
Earnhardt was left to rue brake problems which robbed him of the chance to challenge Busch at the end, but was delighted to close to within five points of current point leader Greg Biffle, whose 18th place finish was his worst of the season.
”We outran a couple of guys there that were faster than us all night. We just got lucky on that restart being on the inside,” Earnhardt said.
“We had some brake problems all night long. Kinda tried to overcome them best we could. We were a top, maybe a fifth-place car. I’m really happy to gain a couple of spots there at the end with that caution and get some more points.”
“It was a tough night,” said Biffle, who won at Texas two weeks ago. “We never recovered from our poor qualifying run and struggled with turn and forward drive; the same things I struggled with qualifying to be quite honest with you. We just didn't have the turn and the drive that we needed.”
With the outside lane delayed by Stewart's slow restart, Juan Pablo Montoya was freight-trained down to 12th, loosing out to the Michael Waltrip Racing cars of Clint Bowyer and pole-sitter Mark Martin, with Brad Keselowski also breaking into the top-10.
While Kyle grabbed the headlines, Kurt Busch staggered to a 28th place finish in his unsponsored Phoenix Racing no. 51, which was delayed by early contact with Jeff Gordon, who finished 23rd having sustained a puncture in the contact. Busch would also bring out the second caution of the night with a harmless spin coming off turn 4 on lap 117.