The three-quarter mile Richmond International Raceway short track has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for race title sponsors Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing, and in particular for Kyle Busch who has won the spring race here for the last four years in a row. But this year it was the Chevrolet-powered Richard Childress Racing #29 that surprised them all and surged to a late race-winning lead in the confusion of a green-white-chequered finish.
It had started off with JGR looking in top form, with Matt Kenseth effortlessly converting pole position ahead of his team mate Brian Vickers to an easy early lead for the first 36 laps of the 400-lap race. Clint Bowyer - another Toyota entry in the Michael Waltrip Racing #15 - finally reeled Kenseth back in and took the lead, but Kenseth promptly took it back in the race off pit road under the first caution of the night on lap 42 for Josh Wise going for a slide in turn 3 after contact with Landon Cassill.
After the restart, Kenseth led the entirety of the next 69-lap green flag stint, pushing his margin over the rest of the field to over two seconds despite reporting some handling issues. The #20 was also sporting an errant piece of metal from the rear right side skirt that NASCAR required the team to attend to during the next round of pit stops, which took place under a caution on lap 111 after Marcos Ambrose's engine oil pressure died and left him coasting back to pit road.
“This is so disappointing for us. it appears we've blown an engine," said the Australian. "The racing gods aren't on our side this year. We were fast tonight and ran top ten. We are proud of that and will have to regroup and go to Talladega."
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That did cost Kenseth a few extra seconds in his pit stall, and so the race lead was handed back to Clint Bowyer - who liked the view up front so much that he stayed there for the next 107 laps. That included two more cautions, one for fluid on the backstretch on lap 146 and another for Brad Keselowski getting a puncture on lap 158 and ending up in the wall at turn 1, inflicting damage on the #2 that took much of the rest of the race to overcome and get back into contention. "It was a freak deal where something in the wheel broke and let all the air out of the tyres," explained Keselowski.
Once past mid-distance, Bowyer's pace started to drop off and Matt Kenseth reclaimed the lead again on lap 219. He was in front when Greg Biffle went for a spin through the infield grass on lap 232 after an evening spent battling with a broken shock absorber. Kenseth retained the lead by winning the race off pit road ahead of both Busch brothers, Kurt just ahead of younger sibling Kyle and then Jimmie Johnson in fourth ahead of Bowyer.
Kenseth continued to lead for another 14 laps at the restart but the bloom was now off the #20 and when his JGR team mate Kyle Busch took over at the front it was the last that Kenseth would see of the lead all evening, although he would never stray disastrously too far from the front. Kyle's own stint at the top lasted exactly 40 laps until Travis Kvapil brought out the sixth caution of the night on lap 293 by hitting the wall in turn 3; Kyle was then narrowly beaten off pit road by his brother with Carl Edwards also looking spritely in third place.
Kurt Busch led at the green flag and weathered a second restart after a second Kvapil-sparked caution on lap 309 as the damaged #93 leaked fluid onto the track as it limed into retirement. The timing of this new caution meant strategy came into play, with several cars including those of Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson opting to pit.