Busch Celebrates, Others Fume After Richmond
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
With the aid of what was reported to be a plastic water bottle, and what was obviously a pit crew in high gear, Kyle Busch won the Capital City 400 Sprint Cup race at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night.
The victory was the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s first in 20 races and the 24th of his career in the series.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. of Hendrick Motorsports was second and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Tony Stewart was third.
Denny Hamlin, Busch’s teammate, was fourth and Kasey Kahne, Earnhardt’s teammate, was fifth.
But after the burnout smoke cleared at RIR, the buzz and emotion was centered around a bizarre series of late-race incidents.
The water bottle came into play with 14 laps to and with Stewart headed toward what appeared to be a certain victory. The alleged presence of the bottle on the track brought out a caution flag. Busch beat the field out of the pits during that caution, kept the lead on the restart and easily held the lead to the checkered flag.
“It was a gift,” Busch said of the caution. “Man, I just don’t know where it came from or what it was or anything, but it doesn’t matter.”
Stewart said it mattered to him.
“That’s what it looked like to me,” he said when asked if the backstretch debris was a water bottle. “I mean, it was out of the groove. It had been sitting there for eight laps.”
The water bottle, however, had accomplices in deciding the outcome; the pit crews of the Busch and
Stewart cars for starters. They sent Busch out first and Stewart out second.
“We came down pit road,” Busch said, “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.”
Stewart flashed a different tone toward his crew.
Asked about being upset at his crew, he said, “No different than anybody else that has a scenario that happens tonight. You go back and try to work on it and try to remedy the problem and try and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Also leaving the Richmond short track feeling screwed was Carl Edwards. He, too, felt NASCAR officials had cost him the race.
Though Mark Martin started the race from the pole and led the first 30 laps, it was Edwards who dominated. He led 202 laps and had a car that looked untouchable at times.
But with 150 laps to go, Stewart went low on Edwards and moved to the lead.
Stewart held the lead until there were 113 laps left. At that point he was passed by Busch. Following Busch around Stewart was Jimmie Johnson. Busch held the lead for 19 laps but then lost it back to Stewart. Almost immediately a yellow came out when Jeff Burton hit the wall.
When the race restarted with 82 laps to to, Edwards said he was told he had the lead back. But on the restart, NASCAR ruled that Stewart was leader and that Edwards jumped early and because of that, was penalized.
That penalty took him out of contention.
Edwards was having a hard time accepting the penalty and its explanation after the race.
“I am trying to not be too frustrated and say something stupid,” he said. “So right before that start my
spotter Jason Hedleskey was told by NASCAR officials that the 99 was the leader, the 99 is the leader. Jason told me and I had a split second to decide what I was going to do. I thought, okay, NASCAR made a mistake and they lined us up wrong.
“I was at a disadvantage being on the outside so I thought I was getting the best start I could get. It looked like Tony waited or spun his tires so they black flagged me. I still don’t understand why they black flagged me. They said we were the leader and I restarted the best I could given the disadvantaged position I was in. The problem is I don’t know if NASCAR is going to take the stance that I jumped the start. If they are saying that I jumped the start then that would be real frustrating.
“I was on the outside and thought Tony Stewart was the leader on the inside. 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. I got the best start I could and Tony didn’t start or spun his tires and NASCAR black flagged us. I don’t know why they black flagged me. I don’t think it is right and I don’t agree with it. Before I say something stupid because I am real frustrated I would like to go talk to them.”
Stewart maintained after the race that there should have been no doubt on Edwards part about what happened.
“Well,” the defending series champion said, “we were the first one to line up and we were the leader on the board. So I don’t know how much clearer it could be that we were the leader. If that was the case then they should have put the caution out and given him the opportunity to choose the lane that he wanted. It’s a miscommunication between upstairs and the drivers.
Stewart held the lead until the final caution. Then, Busch got his gift and the celebrating/complaining began.
Rounding out the top 10 were Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Martin, Brad Keselowski and Edwards.
After the race, Edwards and his crew chief, Bob Osborne, headed to the NASCAR hauler to talk about their situation vis a vis the restart which was penalized.
Edwards emerged from the meeting and said,
“We had to just agree to disagree and that’s the way it is,” Edwards said. “They run the sport and they do the best job they can, and I drive a race care and do the very best job I can. I’d rather not say what was said in there. This whole thing is very frustrating. I don’t feel like we did the wrong thing.”
Oddly, heading into Richmond, some in the media had harped on the fact that the racing in recent weeks had gotten stale. Some mourned the absence of controversy.
That, too, was dealt with in Saturday night’s race.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.comOne Comment