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.