29 April 2012
Late caution propels Busch back onto victory lane
Richmond in springtime turned out to be the best of times for anyone in NASCAR called Busch, with Kyle following up his brother's Nationwide victory with a Cup win of his own.
After an uncharacteristically sluggish start to the new season, Kyle Busch shrugged off the early 2012 malaise that had seemingly been afflicting him, to return to victory lane at the circuit he knows best and which seems to suit him down to the ground in return.
"What up, boys: we're back!" yelled Busch over the team radio as he took the chequered flag.
Victory in this year's Saturday night floodlit event was the fourth consecutive spring win for Kyle on the three-quarter mile oval Richmond International Raceway, and came at the end of a three-hour event that just managed to dodge the weather fronts and showers moving through the Virginia area.
After rain earlier in the day and some frenzied work by the jet dryers, it had been a bit of a surprise to see the race get underway more-or-less on time - although there ended up being a five minute delay in the green flag, that was due to a glitch with some of the floodlights on the backstretch rather than the rain.
Polesitter Mark Martin led the field away and continued in the lead for the first 29 laps, after which his fellow front row starter Carl Edwards decided that it was his turn to get some clear air and he proceeded to lead the race through to lap 50, which is when NASCAR had scheduled a so-called 'competition' caution to enable all teams to bring their cars in to make changes and check out tyre wear on the track given that it had been washed clean by the rain since the last time the cars had been out for practice and qualifying on Friday.
Carl Edwards remained in front for the restart ahead of Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick, and were ahead of a bumpy green flag for some of those behind them triggered by Jeff Gordon getting sideways as he put the power down and causing some contact with championship leader Greg Biffle and also with Kurt Busch. The incident put Gordon back onto pit road with a slashed tyre from the collision, putting him a lap down as the race continued under green; and also affected the Phoenix Racing car, leaving Busch off the pace and dropping backwards.
None of this affected the lead, and Edwards was driving away from the rest of the field and rapidly leaving Hamlin and Harvick behind. The only cars with any sort of comparable pace at this point appeared to be Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson who were working their way up into the top ten from poor starting positions.
A 60-lap green flag period came to an end on lap 116 when Kurt Busch spun on the front straightaway, although he managed to keep it off the wall. That allowed everyone to come in for pit stops under yellow, after which Edwards was back in front for the restart ahead of Hamlin, Harvick and Kyle Busch. Busch went side-by-side with Harvick for third place at the green flag and won the position, but it was another 30 laps before the #18 was able to catch Hamlin and make a successful play for second place. Harvick followed Busch past the #11 as Hamlin appeared on the wane, but Harvick himself was soon edged out by the still-surging Tony Stewart.
Stewart continued his march forward, getting past Busch and then as the race hit the halfway point (and therefore being 'legal', should a late shower roll in) Stewart made a run on his 2011 championship rival for the lead - and pulled it off, albeit only just in time for the next round of pit stops - the first of the night under green flag conditions - which saw him hand the spot back to Edwards again, after Edwards himself had won it back from Harvick who had had the best stop of all of the leaders. By contrast, Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had poor stops, Busch falling back to eighth place as a result but still looking strong enough to make up the lost ground.
That would have to wait a little while, however, as the hundred-plus green flag stint came to an end with a debris caution on lap 227, which was good news for Greg Biffle who had just been knocked off the lead lap and was duly the recipient of the lucky dog free pass before the prompt restart.
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