1 May 2011
Busch continues a winning birthday tradition
Kyle had a 1.7s advantage over his team mate with 20 to go, and while Hamlin started to cut into that lead it was the #11's pit chief Mike Ford that came on the road cautioning his man to save fuel or risk not making it to the finish. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was evidence of how costly this could be, when as predicted he came in for a late pit stop on lap 390 and dropped out of the top ten and two laps off the lead, down to 19th place by the chequered flag.
Everyone held their breath as the cars took the white flag and started their final lap: but there was to be no last minute shocks of cars stuttering to a halt. Everyone left on track now had enough to make that last revolution, and Kyle had enough left in the tank to stop Hamlin from threatening - although not, it turned out, enough to carry out his traditional post-race burn-outs after taking the chequered flag. "We were late to the celebration," admitted Busch after having to get a push into victory lane, but otherwise was delighted with how it had gone: "This is pretty awesome!"
"We knew pretty early on, [Kyle] was going to be tough," said Hamlin. "It's tough when you share notebooks. You know those guys have got exactly what you got." Hamlin gave it his all in his effort to make it a double-win weekend after his success in Friday's Nationwide race, but admitted "It's all we had. My plan was to really conserve the first part of the last run and let him go out there and run. I was going to just kind of sit back and wait and save my tyres [but] when I tried to make a run, I didn't have the grip I needed to close in enough."
The win is a great early birthday present for Kyle, who turns 26 on Monday. He won this race in 2009 and 2010 making this a hattrick of Crown Royal Presents 400 victories, and also makes him only the second driver (alongside Kevin Harvick) to win more than one race in 2011. It's Kyle's 21st Sprint Cup series victory in total, and Joe Gibbs Racing's 90th; and Busch's number of laps led so far this year (719) is now over twice that of any of his rivals. The win also helps boost him back up to third in the championship, after a difficult outing at Talladega saw him involved in a crash that resulted in him slumping to sixth in the points.
But Carl Edwards still leads the Sprint Cup series after bouncing back from a sluggish start to claim fifth place. "We were hoping we were in the right position there," he said afterwards. "We had fuel. I thought those guys were going to run out. I didn't think they would be able to make it but that is the way it goes. We are still leading the points and we have stretched it out a little bit which is great."
Another driver to stick with it after a dispiriting first half was Jimmie Johnson, down to 30th after clashing with Edwards early on but ending up finishing back on the lead lap in eighth thanks to that messy mid-race period of multiple cautions. "We got a good finish out of it but it was a long, long night," he said. "Hats off to the team for not giving up, for sticking with it and staying after it. We got the car semi-competitive and then finally got some strategy and finally got back on the lead lap and we went from there. So a frustrating night but a good points night."
Tony Stewart was another driver to bounceback and finish on the lead lap, but his frustration was evident. "We couldn't make our car turn for anything. I mean, we have a lot of work to do right now," he said. "We suck right now. I am embarrassed about how bad our stuff is." Despite that, Stewart is up two places in the points in tenth position.
Kasey Kahne was more upbeat after finishing in a strong third place - his best since switching to Red Bull Racing - despite recent surgery to his right knee. "It's actually a little bit tight, a bit swelled up maybe. But other than that, it feels fine. I never thought about it once throughout the race."
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Juan Montoya was quick to get away from the track as soon as possible without talking to the media, while Ryan Newman was heading for the Sprint Cup officials' mobile offices to discuss what had happened between himself and the Colombian. He wanted to know "just how to deal with things," he said going in, and afterwards confirmed "I got a few answers ... I'm not really sure the direction it's going to go, but I got a few answers."
We wait to see how those answers will play out between them on the track when NASCAR hits Darlington Raceway for another Saturday evening event, the Showtime Southern 500 on May 7.
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