Since he returned to competition after missing the first three races of the season while suspended, Stewart-Haas Racing's Kurt Busch has been in strong contention in every race. However despite his strong form the all-important race win which would have seen him bounce right back into making the Chase play-offs had continued to elude him. That is, it did until this weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

Once he took the lead for the first time on lap 95, Busch went on to dominate for 291 of the 400 laps of the rescheduled Sunday afternoon race that had been postponed from the previous night because of a washout. It was the 36-year-old's 26th victory in 513 NASCAR Sprint Cup but his first since Martinsville over a year ago, ending a 35-race winless streak.

CLICK: Full race results from Richmond International Raceway

"It's an unbelievable feeling when you pull deep from within and you go through troubles and you know, when you're accused of something and things go sideways, your personal life doesn't need to affect your business life," said Busch. "And I'm here in victory lane. It feels great to do it here in Richmond.

"We came out of the box at Phoenix with a fifthplace finish and a chance to win, backed it up with a chance to win Fontana, brought it home third, and then a few weeks of missing it a little bit, and why were we missing it? Well, maybe because I was just overdriving the car," he mused when asked about his run of near-misses up to now. "I think last week at Bristol, that track, if you drove it aggressively, it would pay off, but if you stepped over the line just a little bit, you ended up spun out or wrecked or brushing against the fence.

"After the race last week, I felt like, you know, just settle down, get into the groove where you let the race come to you and let the talent of the crew members come into play, and that way we all carry the same weight," Busch continued. "It's an incredible feeling. It's a total team effort, and the way that everything came together just seemed like we were building and building and building towards a great finish like this,"

After the Saturday wash-out, Sunday actually turned out to be even better than the most optimistic weather forecasts had suggested going in, and the Toyota Owners 400 got off to a prompt start in its rescheduled afternoon slot. Pole sitter Joey Logano was immediately in charge of proceedings, but Denny Hamlin was unable to find the sort of form that had allowed him to dominate Friday night's Xfinity Series race and he quickly fell back with handling issues, leaving the Stewart-Haas Racing pair of Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick to take up the chase.

Logano was still well in front by the time the planned competition caution came out on lap 50 to allow teams to check how their cars were faring on the track after Saturday's drenching. By this point Logano had already lapped ten cars and had even come close to putting Danica Patrick off the lead lap after she sustained early rear-end damage in contact with Casey Mears that left her off the pace.

Logano continued to lead at the restart but over the course of the next stint his pace waned, and on lap 95 he was passed by Busch and soon thereafter by Harvick. As Logano continued to drop, Joe Gibbs Racing's Matt Kenseth took up third place ahead of the #78 Furniture Row Racing car driven by Martin Truex Jr., with Logano struggling to hold on to fifth ahead of Michael Waltrip Racing's Clint Bowyer, Hendrick Motorsport's Jeff Gordon and SHR owner-driver Tony Stewart.

Aric Almirola encouraged Joey Gase to spin out on the backstretch and into the inside wall on lap 128 to bring out the first proper caution of the race, under which everyone pitted. There was contact between Bowyer and Patrick as they exited and entered their respective pit stalls but no lasting harm was done. At the restart the top four remained unchanged but Brad Keselowski had moved ahead his Penske team mate in fifth with Logano now down to sixth ahead of Bowyer and Gordon, who had been joined in the top ten by his Hendrick team mates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne after they had successfully driven their way back into contention from disappointingly poor qualifying performances on Friday.

There was a quick return to yellow when Josh Wise's car stalled in turns 1 and 2. Wise was also responsible for the next caution on lap 163 shortly after he returned to the track when the bottom of the #98 erupted in flames. The field took the chance to pit and Busch narrowly beat Harvick back out, while Penske boosted their drivers into third and fourth place ahead of Truex, Kahne, Gordon and Johnson at the restart.

The race passed the halfway point without further incident meaning that it was officially in the books even in the now-unlikely event that showers returned to plague the region. By the time the next round of green flag pit stops started on lap 240, only 22 cars were still on the lead lap with Busch having just driven past both Danica Patrick and Denny Hamlin. Brad Keselowski had fallen back from second spot with a dropped cylinder in his Ford engine, and Ganassi's Jamie McMurray used the opportunity to storm his way up from tenth place to wrestle back-and-forth for the lead with Busch.

Just as Busch and McMurray were set to make their own pit stops on this cycle the cautions came out for debris from Brett Moffitt's car after the #55 blew a tyre and hit the wall. As the caution interrupted the pit stop cycle there were a number of cars needing to take the wavearound to sort out the jumbled running order for the restart on lap 276 which saw Busch back in front of Justin Allgaier in the #51 followed by Keselowski and McMurray with Logano in fifth. Truex, Johnson, Kenseth, Harvick and Ryan Newman rounded out the top ten ahead of Hendrick pair Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Allgaier had a strong run in second but was eventually told to prioritise saving his tyres which meant that he slipped away from the race leader and was replaced in second by McMurray who was once again on a charge. A debris caution on lap 350 set up a final round of pit stops, with Busch and McMurray keeping their positions and Johnson getting a boost from his pit crew into third ahead of Keselowski who was still hanging in there despite his engine issues. Harvick was also having to work his way around a number of handling and tyre problems on the SHR #4 during the race and took the green flag on lap 358 in fifth ahead of Gordon, Kenseth, Logano, Bowyer and Allgaier.

The restart was over before it began: Tony Stewart spun on the frontstretch heading into turn 1 after making contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Stewart was incandescent as the #14 car failed to restart meaning that it had to be towed to the garage area and into retirement. With Gase and Wise the only other cars out of action up at this point it meant that Stewart was heading for a 41st place classification - painful and very costly in championship terms. After taking his anger out on his racing helmet, the three-time Cup champion did not stick around to talk with the media about the incident, but Earnhardt later pointed the finger at Stewart.

"I don't know, you'll have to ask him," said the Hendrick driver, who went on to finish the race in 14th place. "He hit me in the left rear quarter panel. I was trying to clear the #51 on the outside of me, so I was as high as I could go. So, you'll just have to ask him."

The next restart on lap 367 was also short-lived as Jeb Burton spun out in the BK Racing #23 that he'd taken over from JJ Yeley overnight; Burton himself had failed to qualify for the race, but his sponsorship backing was enough to trump the money brought to the team by Yeley. There were few takers for pit road, but among them was the ailing Keselowski.

"It sucks but it is part of racing and we just have to try to learn from it going forward and be better," he said of the engine issues that had plagued him all day. "All you can do is try not to ruin everybody else's day and make the most of the situation. If there is a place something like this is going to happen, here is not the worst of places but it is never good."

Busch once again led the field to the green flag on lap 374, and this time there were no further interruptions. While Busch was able to maintain his lead, the big mover behind him was his SHR team mate Harvick who finally seemed to be back on form in time for the close of the race as he made short work of passing first Johnson and then McMurray to take up the shotgun spot again. He was running faster than Busch at this point, but lapped traffic frustrated his attempts to hunt down the race leader and the laps were flying past at a frightening rate. Moments later the white flag was out, and Busch still had a three-quarter second lead over Harvick on the three-quarter-mile track when he crossed the finish line in first place.

"I have this opportunity because of Gene Haas and everybody that's part of our family at Stewart-Haas," said Busch as he celebrated with the team in victory lane, including his regular crew chief who was back at work this weekend after being forced onto the sidelines at Bristol suffering from kidney stones. "Tony Gibson is just an amazing crew chief and I'm glad I've got the chance to work with him. Thanks to everybody, we got it done today. The car was pretty good!"

"I'm just really happy for everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing and Kurt and everybody on the #41 team," said second-place finisher Harvick, who was nonetheless disappointed to lose out on the win for himself. "What we really needed was just all the tyres to be the same. We put that one set of tyres on and went back to 12th or 13th and wound up making up the spots, but it just got us way behind.

"The track bar broke and we weren't able to get the track bar back where we needed to," he added, thanking his crew for getting him back in the race after all these setbacks. "They've done a great job and made up a lot of ground after we lost it and we were able to get back up and at least have a chance there at the end."

Johnson passed McMurray for third place in the closing laps, while Logano held on to fifth followed by Kahne, Kenseth and Gordon. Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr. - former MWR team mates two years ago - rounded out the top ten with Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson just missing out.

"We had a great race car," said Johnson, who started the race all the way back in 36th place which left him ruing his run of poor qualifying performances. "We've got to get those better in order to really win as often as we'd like to. We've got two wins and we're making the most out of these poor starts and poor pit road picks. We've got to get better on Fridays.

"We worked hard to make it last in the long run and with all the long runs that we had," he added. "I was able to get through the field and get this Lowe's Pro Service Chevy up front. Those last few restarts I was able to hang on and duke it out with those guys and get a nice top three finish."

"It was a lot of fun to get to be the guy that had the speed at the end," commented McMurray. "Kurt's car just took off so much faster than ours [but] I'm really proud of our guys. We had a little bit of a hiccup in the pits at the beginning, and those guys did a good job of brushing that off and giving me good pit stops toward the end."

Despite working his way through from 40th place to finish in sixth, Kasey Kahne wasn't entirely happy with his weekend at the office but cautiously optimistic for the future. "It was pretty inconsistent there were good runs and bad runs," he said. "For whatever reason on that last run was really good. Similar to qualifying and practice on Friday we had our last run was really good and then our next run was really bad. Not making a whole lot of adjustments, but something is changing."

Another top ten finish keeps Martin Truex Jr. firmly in the hint for a Chase spot and he was happy to be back on form after a disappointing slump to 29th last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, although he felt he could have done even better.

"We had a top five car all day long, just had a bad set of tyres there on that deal where the field got all messed up," he explained. "We had a left-front tyre come apart and just got destroyed on that run and fell back to like 17th. Once you get down towards the end it gets harder and harder to pass. I'm proud of the guys we had a really good car all weekend long. A top five for sure and just a shame we couldn't close it out today."

Truex continues to hold an impressive third place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship standings ahead of Johnson and Keselowski. With Harvick maintaining a 33 point lead over Logano at the top, the top five are unchanged on last weekend but Kasey Kahne moves up to sixth place, replacing his Hendrick team mate Dale Earnhardt Jr. who falls two spots after finishing in 14th place on Sunday.

Kurt Busch's win this week means he climbs four places in the standings and is now in 18th position after being put on the back foot points-wise as a result of missing those first three races of the season. While he's safely in the top 30 required to maintain his Chase eligibility - NASCAR has already handed him a waiver for missing the first three races of the year - the points could still end up being used as a tie-breaker for Chase positions if there are too many winners of regular season events by the time the Sprint Cup field returns to Richmond in September. One way he could avoid that problem is by picking up a second win over the summer; and maybe even a third.

"We want to win more, we want to win more often," Busch asserted. "We want to be ready for anything that comes our way on making pit calls, two tyres, four tyres, restarts, inside, outside. We want to be that universal team that's ready for any circumstance or any situation, and that way we can advance through the Chase and be a competitive team for the championship.

"To win early in the year is special, but you can't hang your hat on it," he added. "We're winners in April. It feels good. Plenty of time to do fun things to build the team up, get stronger, learn from all these races coming up and continue to go forward."

As well as Busch, the race winners so far in 2015 are Penske pair Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, JGR's Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, and Hendrick's Jimmie Johnson who has won two races this season as has Busch's SHR team mate Kevin Harvick. However next week's race could shake things up, as it's back to Talladega Superspeedway and a restrictor plate event in which almost anything you can imagine could happen - and usually does, only even weirder.

Full race results and Sprint Cup Championship standings.

Get the latest NASCAR news straight to your Twitter feed! CLICK HERE to follow's new dedicated NASCAR Twitter feed



Loading Comments...