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Kyle Busch is the boss at Bristol
21 March 2011
Kyle Busch needed to bounce back from a difficult "home event" at Las Vegas two weeks ago which saw his championship position take a battering after an early accident and exit from the race. And he couldn't have asked for a better place to do it than Bristol Motor Speedway, one of his favourite and most successful venues.
It was a cloudy but dry day in Bristol, Tennessee with temperatures into the 60s Fahrenheit as Carl Edwards led the field round for the first of 500 laps on the half mile oval, but Edwards' pace wasn't quite at its best during the opening fifty laps and he was passed for the lead by Paul Menard and then by Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.
Due to the late switch of tyre supplies following excessive tyre wear noted in practice and qualifying, NASCAR had already announced a "competition caution" on lap 50 to bring everyone in and see how the replacement rubber was faring. In fact the race didn't make it as far as that before the first caution came out on lap 28 after Jeff Burton's sudden slowing up with an electrical problem caught out Brad Keselowski and the cars behind him: David Reutimann got into Keselowski and sent the #2 into a spin while Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray, and A.J. Allmendinger were also caught up in the fallout; as a result, the competition caution came in handy to Hamlin who needed the free pass opportunity to get back on the lead lap for a while, but Reutimann was left three laps down. Burton was back running okay, but subsequently had a loose wheel and went two laps down for an extra green flag pit stop. Even further back, Brian Vickers was scored 51 laps down after a lengthy visit to the garage area to fix mechanical problems.
David Gilliland and Robby Gordon opted to stay out and led the restart on lap 56 ahead of Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman who had taken only two tyres, while former leader Menard found himself back in 10th place. Newman quickly took the lead but oddly Stewart fell back, while Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. were on the move forward and up to third and fourth within seconds of the green flag.
Newman's two-tyre gambit started to fade and Kyle Busch took over the lead on lap 84 with Truex soon past Newman for second and then into the lead himself on lap 92. And Robby Gordon also found the limits of tyre wear this week when a tyre went down on lap 128 and sent him into the wall, bringing out the third yellow. After pit stops, Truex retained the lead for the restart ahead of Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne, but the green only lasted a couple of laps before Brad Keselowski spun in turn 4 and hit the wall on lap 139.
Few cars came in again during the fourth caution, although Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon came in for adjustments after being unhappy with the running of their cars, and were joined in pit road by AJ Allmendinger and David Reutimann. Truex once again led the restart, this time on lap 144, but he was soon passed by a charging Kevin Harvick for the lead and then ousted from second by Kurt Busch who had suddenly found some blistering form after starting a mediocre 20th. Other drivers were having a less happy time: Casey Mears suddenly slowed on lap 151 and nearly triggered another caution but made it to pit lane in time, while Greg Biffle was complaining that his car was "ploughing like a dump truck."
As the race started to get a good run of over one hundred green flag laps, it was the #48 of Jimmie Johnson that started to find its groove and moved up to take the lead from Harvick on lap 191, with Kyle Busch making good use of the heavy traffic around them to sneak past Harvick as well to climb to second, although Kyle couldn't match Johnson's raw pace and had to watch the reigning NASCAR champion pull out a 2s lead over the next three dozen laps until Johnson got snarled up dealing with traffic.
And then on lap 246 the green flag fun was over for a spin by Bobby Labonte in turn 4 - which despite the fact that he quickly recovered and continued without losing a position, nonetheless resulted in the fifth caution of the afternoon, which gave all the cars the chance for a welcome breather and a trip to pit road. Johnson maintained the lead through the pit stops and restarted on lap 252 ahead of Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards. Despite getting a great jump at the restart, Johnson's pace wasn't as dominant in this part of the race and on lap 270 he was passed for the lead by Kyle. he two of them then high-tailed it out of Dodge and proceeded to build up a lead of 2s over the rest of the field.
Drivers not having such a great time of it included Juan Montoya, as he found he had a loose wheel but had difficulty getting the right line to get into the pits, and then ended up two laps off the lead once he managed to get to his pit box - dropping from 10th before the incident to 24th afterwards. Trevor Bayne had a moment with the wall out of turn 2 on lap 273, but avoided doing any major damage or causing a yellow; while former leader Martin Truex Jr. was now distinctly unhappy with the handling of the #56 and found himself back in 13th place, going a lap down to the leaders on 327. He was in good company: the Kyle/Jimmie express was putting Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and Marcos Ambrose a lap off the lead during this time as well, and it was when Kyle Busch was dealing with Ambrose that Johnson seized the opportunity to get past him and retake the lead again in his own right.
Fortunately for Truex there was a sixth caution minutes later on lap 344 for debris in turn 2 and Truex got his lap back by claiming the lucky dog free pass. All the leaders came in and opted for four-tyres, knowing well that they would need at least one more trip down pit lane before the end of the race.
At the restart on lap 350, Jimmie Johnson led Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne to the green flag, which saw Johnson race off to a 1.4s lead leaving the Busch brothers to show a side-by-side display of high speed sibling rivalry for second, with the #18 came out top in. In fact, Kurt's form seemed to have peaked, and he was soon passed by Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle as he started to fall off the lead pace.
Johnson had just succeeded in putting Tony Stewart a lap down when the seventh caution flew on lap 427 for a spin by David Gilliland on the front straightaway. Stewart got the free pass back onto the lead lap as the cars came in for what looked to be their final stop of the day - and once again tyre wear was on everyone's minds, none of the leaders trying a two-tyre strategy this week.
Pit stops have all too often proved to be the bane of Jimmie Johnson's racing day, and it proved the case once again at Bristol: Johnson's rear tyre changer slipped while running from the right to the left side of the car, costing Johnson valuable time and two positions. "Amazing, one little slip on pit road, what it equals on the racetrack," observed Johnson afterwards. "The race off pit road is what got us."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. could sympathise with that feeling. He had worked his way up into the top ten by this time despite having gone a lap down early on and needing the free pass under the third caution to get back onto the lead lap. But during this round of pit stops he got a pit lane speeding penalty that put him all the way down the back of the leap lap again. "I gave up about four spots with that speeding on pit road. Should have finished in the top 10," he said, but remaining upbeat: "Pretty good finish otherwise. We didn't really have a very good car when the race started. [Crew chief Steve Letarte] and the whole team have made the car better every day, every race. It's been awesome."
"Our guys on that last pitstop won this race coming out of the pits firs," agreed Kyle. "I don't know if I could have got by Carl," he conceded, adding: "Carl was good."
That left Kyle Busch in charge at the restart on lap 435 ahead of Edwards, Biffle, Johnson and Harvick. But it was a very messy one: Kevin Harvick made contact with Mark Martin through turns 3 and 4 and spun, and with the field so bunched up on this cramped half mile circuit the fall out behind them was inevitable, inflicting heavy damage on Martin, Jamie McMurray, Trevor Bayne, Juan Montoya, Clint Bowyer and others.
The track went green again on lap 444 but once again soon hit trouble and went back under caution for a spin in turn 4 by Travis Kvapil on lap 450. With just 50 laps to go till the end, some cars - including Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin and Martin Truex Jr. - came into the pits, but the leaders stayed out and so Kyle led the now-usual suspects of Edwards, Biffle, Johnson and Menard to the green flag ... and once again the track almost immediately went yellow, this time because of smoke coming from the blown engine of the #33 of Clint Bowyer. At least Brad Keselowski was happy with the caution, as the free pass put him back on the lead lap at just the right time of the day.
Fortunately this staccato green/yellow/green/yellow period was now behind them, and once the track went green again on lap 463 it ran caution-free all the way to the chequered flag. Kyle Busch had led the restart but almost immediately Carl Edwards turned on the pressure and the two were locked in combat, with Jimmie Johnson soon arriving on scene to make it a three-way battle for the lead. Edwards briefly led on lap 474, and minds flashed back to the history of Edwards/Busch encounters at Bristol at the past - when Edwards had won by bumping Busch out of the way in 2008. But Kyle could see a slice of history in his sights with the chance of that second consecutive clean sweep of Sprint Cup/Nationwide/Truck events in a single weekend and he was not going to be denied - he pushed his way back in front and started to pull away, pulling out a 0.5s lead with ten to go that survived even coming up on the back of lapped traffic.
As the laps counted down, the only driver to hit problems inside the last ten was Joey Logano, who suffered a broken wheel and contact with the wall; but he held it together and NASCAR resisted the temptation to show the yellow as Logano successfully made his way back to pit lane without causing anyone else any problems.
Edwards had expected to have another chance at the lead, but found Busch simply too fast in the end. "I thought we'd be better matched with him," Edwards said. "I thought I'd be able to race with him harder for those last 15 to 20 laps, but he took off, and I was a little loose off, and I just couldn't get back to him to race.
He admitted having fun during the earlier battle for the lead during that final stint: "While we were racing for the first couple of laps after the restart, it was a blast. If I would have known that was the only shot I was going to have, I might have raced a little harder." Did he consider bumping Kyle out of the way like he had in the past? "I don't know that you could really bump a guy and just move him. You might cause a big wreck. You might wreck yourself!"
The old "bump and grind" style of racing seen at Bristol has seemingly been replaced by side-by-side running, just as was seen earlier this season at Daytona. The drivers approved: "The old track lent itself to more contact," Johnson explained later. "There was no outside lane. You would just go in and move the guy off the bottom and take the lane from him ... From a racer's standpoint, we can race finally [on the new track.] This place is fun to race at."
And so the white flag came out for Kyle Busch, and 15s later the win - and the clean sweep - was his. It's Kyle's 20th Sprint Cup career win and his first of the 2011 season; but he didn't claim the extra point for most laps led, as Johnson's 164 laps beat his own 153, but that was unimportant as Busch rebounded up eight places in the Sprint Cup standings following the result at Bristol, after former points leader Tony Stewart could only manage 19th in the race.
Keeping Edwards off the top spot also meant Kyle gave an (unintended, surely) boost to his brother Kurt, who ended up seventh and took over the lead of the Sprint Cup standings by one point over Edwards. Edwards was the first to admit that any annoyance at missing the top spot in either the race or the championship was in fact an embarrassment of riches: "The fact that I'm sitting here frustrated about a second-place run, being one point out of the lead, that's a huge jump from a year ago. When you're running poorly, you'll take anything you can get. I guess we're just so greedy that when you're running well, you want to win every race, you want to lead the most laps, you want to sit on every pole!"
When you have complaints like that, you're having a very good start to the season.Race result
1. #18 Kyle Busch Toyota 2:54:59.000s Running (47/1 pts)
2. #99 Carl Edwards Ford + 0.946s Running (43/1 pts)
3. #48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet + 1.389s Running (43/2 pts)
4. #17 Matt Kenseth Ford + 4.193s Running (40/0 pts)
5. #27 Paul Menard Chevrolet + 4.703s Running (40/1 pts)
6. #29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet + 4.789s Running (39/1 pts)
7. #22 Kurt Busch Dodge + 4.810s Running (37/0 pts)
8. #16 Greg Biffle Ford + 5.902s Running (36/0 pts)
9. #4 Kasey Kahne Toyota + 6.022s Running (35/0 pts)
10. #39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet + 6.611s Running (35/1 pts)
11. #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet + 6.829s Running (33/0 pts)
12. #5 Mark Martin Chevrolet + 7.439s Running (32/0 pts)
13. #47 Bobby Labonte Toyota + 7.451s Running (31/0 pts)
14. #24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet + 8.003s Running (30/0 pts)
15. #9 Marcos Ambrose Ford + 9.009s Running (29/0 pts)
16. #6 David Ragan Ford + 9.595s Running (28/0 pts)
17. #56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota + 10.461s Running (28/1 pts)
18. #2 Brad Keselowski Dodge + 10.993s Running (26/0 pts)
19. #14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet + 14.518s Running (25/0 pts)
20. #31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet + 2 laps Running (24/0 pts)
21. #1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet + 2 laps Running (23/0 pts)
22. #78 Regan Smith Chevrolet + 2 laps Running (22/0 pts)
23. #20 Joey Logano Toyota + 3 laps Running (21/0 pts)
24. #42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet + 3 laps Running (20/0 pts)
25. #36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet + 3 laps Running (19/0 pts)
26. #38 Travis Kvapil Ford + 4 laps Running (0pts)
27. #34 David Gilliland Ford + 5 laps Running (18/1 pts)
28. #37 Tony Raines Ford + 6 laps Running (16/0 pts)
29. #09 Bill Elliott Chevrolet + 7 laps Running (15/0 pts)
30. #00 David Reutimann Toyota + 7 laps Running (14/0 pts)
31. #43 A.J. Allmendinger Ford + 7 laps Running (13/0 pts)
32. #71 Andy Lally * Chevrolet + 9 laps Running (12/0 pts)
33. #11 Denny Hamlin Toyota + 12 laps Running (11/0 pts)
34. #21 Trevor Bayne Ford + 18 laps Running (0pts)
35. #33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet lap 456 Engine (9/0 pts)
36. #83 Brian Vickers Toyota lap 441 (8/0 pts)
37. #13 Casey Mears Toyota lap 427 (7/0 pts)
38. #192 Dennis Setzer Dodge lap 336 Susp (6/0 pts)
39. #7 Robby Gordon Dodge lap 127 Accident (5/0 pts)
40. #46 J.J. Yeley Chevrolet lap 97 Brakes (4/0 pts)
41. #87 Joe Nemechek Toyota lap 72 Brakes (0pts)
42. #60 Landon Cassill Toyota lap 36 Brakes (0pts)
43. #66 Michael McDowell Toyota lap 35 Brakes (1/0 pts)* Denotes Rookie