Busch avoids chaos in road-course race

Kurt Busch finally has a road-course win to his credit.

The 2004 Sprint Cup Series champion dominated a wild and rough road-course showdown at Infineon Raceway on Sunday, leading 76 laps to take his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the season, and first in 21 road-course starts, leading a field dominated not by teams but by road-course demons.

"It’s a great sense of satisfaction," the Penske Racing driver said. "All the hard work from the guys back at the race shop where it starts. The times that we’ve tested. The execution here at the racetrack this weekend. You see it all come together. You know when you have a shot at victory you have to block those moments out and get that car to the victory line. To get the checkered flag, do some doughnuts, to drive in reverse around this road course, I got choked up.

"It was a great feeling to know that I’ve won on a road course."

Typical of a road course, no one team had multiple top fives, with Jeff Gordon (Hendrick Motorsports) second, followed by Carl Edwards (Roush Fenway Racing), Clint Bowyer (Richard Childress Racing) and Marcos Ambrose (Richard Petty Motorsports).

Edwards, who opted to remain at Infineon Raceway Saturday instead of traveling to Road America in Wisconsin for the Nationwide Series race, maintained his Sprint Series points lead with the finish, standing 25 points ahead of Kevin Harvick and 33 ahead of Jimmie Johnson. Busch is now fourth, 34 behind Edwards.

"I think this is a huge weekend for us," Edwards said. "We started out terrible. We changed plans right at the end of practice on Friday. We all got together and talked about it. . . . That was the call of the weekend. Ended up giving us two hours of practice. We got to really work on the car, and that’s what made this a good day for us."

Gordon, meanwhile, gained ground in the standings. He climbed three spots to ninth, which puts him inside the group in position for an automatic berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

He did so by staying out of trouble a year after getting caught up in several incidents at Infineon.

"There were times today where we didn’t have the car and I gave up the spots," Gordon said. "I wasn’t going to try to push the issue. I guess that’s good and bad. I didn’t have a car that could even try to pass anybody or block anybody down in Turn 11 for most of the race. So I had to give up a lot of those spots and bite my tongue and hope that we could get it fixed or get track position, which it worked out.

"I certainly didn’t want to make as many enemies as I did last year, because I made a lot of ’em coming out of here. So it’s nice to come out of here and that not happen. I don’t think I really touched anybody today. So that feels good."

Busch held the lead on the final restart with 20 laps to go and jumped away from the field quickly. It was reminiscent of the rest of the day, as Busch led 76 of 110 laps.

Things were jumbled after that late caution, with some drivers on new tires and others on older rubber. Some who expected to be in contention were farther back and began to aggressively attempt to drive to the front.

But Busch calmly pulled away and stayed out of all the aggression going on behind him.

The chaos came to a head with eight laps left when Juan Pablo Montoya pushed Brad Keselowski nearly off the track trying to charge to the front despite Keselowski leaving him an opening, causing Keselowski to come back on the track and tag Montoya. The Earnhardt Ganassi Racing driver spun on Lap 102, but no caution came out. Paul Menard then caught Ryan Newman, who spun for the second time of the afternoon.

The largest payback of the race came to Tony Stewart, who had pushed Brian Vickers too deep into Turn 11 on Lap 37, sparking a multicar incident that claimed Dale Earnhardt Jr. On Lap 87, Vickers sent Stewart spinning off of the same Turn 11, which left Stewart with the rear of his car sitting atop a tire barrier. That not only caused a lengthy delay as Stewart’s car was brought down but also altered the pit strategy for some teams.

It didn’t matter for Busch.

Things started getting racy shortly after the opening pit sequence. Stops had just ended when the first caution period came out on Lap 32 for Casey Mears, who ran out of fuel as he headed to pit road.

Shortly after the restart, the second caution came out on Lap 37 for the Stewart-Vickers incident. After Stewart pushed him into the turn, Vickers spun and caught up Jamie McMurray as drivers struggled to dodge the action. Earnhardt and Newman were among those getting damage in the incident, with Earnhardt going to the garage for repairs a few laps later. He finished 41st.

Right after that incident, heading into Turn 11 again, AJ Allmendinger got inside Denny Hamlin, swinging Hamlin into Martin Truex Jr. as the trio tried to take the turn three wide. Truex was the outsider, spinning after Hamlin moved into him.

As Busch continued to pull away at the front, things continued to get heated. Clint Bowyer took the lead on a Lap 50 restart, but Busch muscled back past a lap later. Robby Gordon blocked Joey Logano low, and Logano shoved him out of the way, spinning Gordon, who did not make contact with anything but did slide out of the groove.

The fourth caution came out for oil on the track after Bobby Labonte was spun and sent into the wall by Michael McDowell. Hamlin, who had led 12 laps, was running ninth at the time but had to head to the garage for repairs for damage.

On lap 66, Logano got into Matt Kenseth as they tried to avoid the spinning car of Allmendinger, who had contact from Keselowski, again in Turn 11.

Kenseth was flirting with the top 10 at the time.

With 39 laps to go, Busch made his final planned pit stop, and he stuck to what turned out to be a race-winning strategy.