1 May 2011
Busch continues a winning birthday tradition
Kyle Busch claimed his third successive win of the Crown Royal Presents 400, but other drivers including Jeff Gordon didn't prove so lucky during an eventful middle section of the race.
Kyle Busch and his Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Denny Hamlin stormed to the front of the field during an opening green flag stint of 107 laps, then managed to survive an eventful mid-section of the race that saw numerous cautions one of which claimed the scalp of Jeff Gordon, and then pursued a knife-edge fuel conservation strategy to get them to the end of an 86-lap green flag finish to the race.
The floodlights were already blazing as polesitter Juan Montoya led the field to the green flag at 7.45pm alongside Regan Smith, both drivers hoping for a famous win at Richmond International Roadway despite it being a traditional stronghold of the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin was starting from 11th but Kyle was all the way back in 20th and looked to have some work ahead of him, so for the first 25 lap of the race Montoya was able to cruise around untroubled. Smith, on the other hand, was immediately losing positions to Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne.
Montoya had a good lead over Bowyer up to lap 25 when he came up on the back markers. He needed to start negotiating traffic but found his handling too tight to mention. Straight away he was dropping back like a stone and quickly shuffled down to fourth place, with Bowyer and Kahne taking up the lead.
As the race hit lap 60, Kahne, Bowyer and Gordon continued to run in the top three spots, but ominously Denny Hamlin was now up to fourth place - and running right behind him was Kyle Busch, having worked his way steadily up from that disappointing qualifying position. Hamlin continued to apply the pressure, and finally on lap 73 he passed Kasey Kahne at the start/finish line to become the fourth leader of the night.
There had been no caution so far, and with Richmond International Raceway being a scant three quarter mile oval in length the leaders were now starting to lap some big names: Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose were already off the lead lap and Hamlin was also soon past Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte and Jimmie Johnson as the first round of pit stops loomed.
Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne all hit pit road on lap 88, with Hamlin staying out an extra lap and suffering from a slow pit stop. Kyle's crew were, as ever, lightning fast and so the #18 took over the top spot on lap 90, with Hamlin dropping down to fourth behind Bowyer and Mark Martin. Hamlin managed to pass Martin to reclaim third position as the race topped 105 laps of unbroken green flag racing.
But Ryan Newman and Juan Montoya were about to put a stop to that: they had been racing hard coming onto the backstretch when Newman clipped Montoya's rear bumper and bumped him into hard contact with the outside wall. The incident itself didn't trigger a caution, but debris from Montoya's #42 forced race control's hand and the yellow was out on lap 107.
"He crashed himself, basically," said an unrepentant Newman afterwards. "I don't know if he didn't know he wasn't clear or what but he crashed himself off of turn 2. I don't know if he thought it was me on purpose, but the message was delivered that it wasn't intentional."
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