Kyle Busch Resurfaces Late To Win Richmond
By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
Kyle Busch took another bow on the eve of his birthday Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway, where the then soon-to-be 21-year-old snapped a 21-race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winless streak with a victory in the Heath Calhoun 400.
Busch moved around Jeff Gordon on a restart with five laps to go to post his first victory since prevailing at Bristol Motor Speedway on Aug. 22, 2009.
Gordon, who led 144 laps, finished second and was followed by Kevin Harvick, Jeff Burton and Carl Edwards – who finally led his first lap of 2010 – in a race named in honor of retired Army Sgt. Heath Calhoun, who lost both legs in the service of his country.
Busch led a race-high 226 laps – most of them early in the race on the 0.75-mile RIR oval. The second half of the event clearly belonged to Gordon, the four-time Cup champion who was searching for his first victory of 2010. But a series of cautions during the closing stages proved pivotal, including the night’s sixth yellow for Sam Hornish Jr.’s wreck into the inside retaining wall down the backstretch.
Gordon chose the inside line for the restart, with Busch alongside. Busch reacted slightly quicker to the green than Gordon, and the two raced side-by side until Busch completed the pass just before the start/finish line. It marked the seventh time in the last eight races at RIR that the driver who led with 10 to go – in this case Gordon – did not drive into Victory Lane.
“Dave Rogers, I am so proud of you,” Busch yelled over his in-car radio moments after taking the checkered flag. He continued those sentiments post-race, as Rogers celebrated his first victory as a Cup crew chief.
“I can’t thank Dave enough,” Busch said. “It’s just unbelievable to be back in Victory Lane. A lot of people doubted what we were doing but I never did.” Busch was referring to the change in crew chiefs late in the 2009 season that saw Rogers replace Steve Addington.
“And I want to thank the fans, too,” said Busch, driver of the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. “Birthday weekend, it’s always good to have their support.”
As to the restart, Busch said, “I don’t remember what happened. Where was I? Was I on the outside? I just drove it down into Turn 1 and hope it stuck. I drove it too far and got it pointed just in time and had a major drive up off the corner. I knew I needed to baby it into Turn 3 and try to get a good launch off Turn 4 as well. Finally got to clear Jeff and got down to the bottom. Set sail from there and those guys (Gordon and Harvick) got racing. Best thing when you get out front is to see the guys behind you racing.”
Gordon was asked if the difference on the final restart was lane choice or older tires.
“It was the 18 (Busch),” said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Impala . “He was so strong on restarts all night. I don’t know what happened to him that one run where he fell back. He was head and shoulders above everybody on restarts. We got a couple decent restarts there and Burton and Harvick got to racing one another. And it allowed us to get out there into some clean air.
“On that last restart, I got a good one but Kyle got a good one as well. I was just too loose to really get going. Great, great effort again. We’re going to have to figure out how to win these ones on these late cautions. That’s not where we’re strong right now. We’re certainly getting plenty of practice at it.”
Gordon had been involved in controversial incidents with reigning/four-time Cup champion – and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson – in the previous two races at Texas Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. The two avoided each other Saturday night, although Johnson was involved in a wreck with Clint Bowyer of Richard Childress Racing shortly after crossing the start/finish line.
Gordon now has recorded eight second-place finishes since his most recent victory at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2009 – a streak of 39 starts.
Third-place Harvick assumed a 10-point championship lead over Johnson, who finished 10th.
“The 18 was just really good on the restarts, and my car looked like Jeff’s car – just a little too free,” said Harvick, driver of the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil Chevy fielded by RCR. “It’s fun to be racing for wins. That’s what we’re here to do and we’ve done that several times this year. After winning last week (at Talladega Superspeedway) and (being) close this week, we’ve led the points at the end of 10 weeks now. So no reason we can’t lead it after the last 10.”
Busch moved from fifth to third in points. Burton, meanwhile, continued to resurrect his season after posting three finishes of 20th or worse in the first seven events. Burton moved from 10th to ninth in points.
“This is what we needed tonight, to try to get the momentum going,” said Burton, driver of the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevy fielded by RCR. “I was a little conservative at the end because of the way things have been going. The 18 made something happen that I couldn’t make happen.
“One of things I’ve done a good job of in my career is getting finishes and not making mistakes. This year I looked like a rookie on a lot of occasions and have been real disappointed in myself. I wanted to be more aggressive at the end, but we couldn’t afford to right now.”
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