Kyle Busch wins Richmond night race
Kyle Busch is fast becoming the master of the short track.
Busch, who turns 26 on Monday, captured his 21st career Sprint Cup victory and second of the year as he took the checkered flag on Saturday night at the Crown Royal presents the Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
"We love coming to Richmond for some reason," Busch said. "It seems to run well for us. We like coming to this place. The fans are great. We always tend to have good race cars here."
Busch, who is riding a three-year winning streak at the spring race in Richmond, lasted the final 107 laps on one tank of fuel, a risk that turned out to be the right strategy as he held off Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin for the victory.
"It was important to save fuel there under the cautions," Busch said. "Fortunately we had that long caution flag. That probably saved us. If we didn’t have that, most likely we would have went to the end but probably come up a little bit short. Just thankfully it played out the way that it played out and I saved just enough."
Hamlin was looking for the weekend sweep at his home track after he won the Nationwide Series race on Friday and his charity race a night earlier. He said he knew it was going to be difficult to beat Busch.
"We knew pretty early on, the 18 was going to be tough," Hamlin said. "It’s tough when you share notebooks. You know those guys got exactly what you got. Every trick in the book on short tracks, those guys have it. Kyle has the talent. We knew they were going to be tough to beat."
Kasey Kahne was third, giving Toyota the 1-2-3 finish, followed by David Ragan and Carl Edwards. Kahne was pleased with his result.
"It was a tough track, the tire-and-track combination was slippery," Kahne said. "Throughout the whole race, we kept working on the car. … The Gibbs guys were the guys to beat again here. We came to third, so that was good."
Kahne added: "We had a bad one at Martinsville, a bad one at Talladega. Just didn’t run very well at Texas. So we’ve had three of them in a row. So we needed a good run tonight. We definitely did."
Clint Bowyer finished sixth, while AJ Allmendinger, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Brian Vickers rounded out the top 10.
With 38 laps to go, Kyle Busch had built almost a two-second lead over Hamlin while Dale Earnhardt Jr. had battled up to the eighth spot. Both drivers, however, had fuel worries — Earnhardt would have to pit for fuel at some point before the race ended, and Busch’s crew chief was cautioning him to save fuel.
Martin Truex Jr. had a great race until he had to pit for a tire problem while running in the fifth position. Truex was then black-flagged for missing a lug nut and, to add final insult to injury, was flagged for speeding exiting pit road on his previous penalty.
One of the big stories of Saturday’s race was the brewing trouble between Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Newman.
The first caution of the race was called on Lap 107 when Newman clipped Montoya. The bump caused Montoya’s back end to slide into the wall, severely damaging the car’s rear. Montoya’s crew used sheet metal and a rubber sledgehammer to patch up the damage, but after a handful of laps, Montoya had to go back to the pits for additional repairs to the car’s deck lid and quarter panel.
Montoya then got into Newman, causing the third caution of the race on Lap 236. Newman had voiced some concerns earlier over Montoya’s racing on his radio, but Montoya certainly may have had a little payback in mind for the Lap 107 incident.
In other words, it was on. Newman vs. Montoya. NASCAR now has its feud.
Hamlin said of that feud: "Every time Montoya has damage, you see who did it, they usually end up getting racked. You usually know that’s coming.
"You have to realize, Montoya, I like him, I think he’s a helluva driver, but you the can’t wreck everyone every time you get in an accident. Accidents happen. Guys make mistakes. Why hold grudges. Makes it tough to get in the Chase, too."
Pole winner Montoya had led for 25 laps before Clint Bowyer grabbed the lead from him. As the sun set in Richmond, the perks of NASCAR night racing came into play — glowing red brake rotors were visible on the cars as they raced around the track’s turns.
Earnhardt got back on the lead lap with the "lucky dog" pass when Kurt Busch, who had been struggling with a loose car, finally hit the wall — bringing the race’s second caution on Lap 185.
Jimmie Johnson hit Joey Logano’s left rear sending Logano spinning and into the wall — a TV replay appeared to have shown Johnson’s car just got loose. The fourth caution was called on Lap 255.
Meanwhile, the Montoya-Newman feud was still festering. Newman was overheard on his radio saying, "I can’t believe they [NASCAR] aren’t going to black flag that 42 car. … I’m going to take care of it after the race."
FOX reported that NASCAR had warned Montoya to stay away from Newman. In a twisted sense of irony, FOX also showed an overhead view of the two drivers’ haulers and where they are parked — Newman and Montoya are separated by one hauler, that of Matt Kenseth.
Casey Mears spun out after the restart and the fifth caution was called on Lap 265. Minutes later, the sixth caution was called when Landon Cassill, who was underneath Brad Keselowski, got loose and hit Keselowski, who spun out. David Gilliland did a spectacular job of avoiding a direct hit on Keselowski.
Unfortunately, Keselowski’s problems continued — the seventh caution was called when he spun out after diving down low. His car was steaming and his tires were cut.
A spectacular crash involving seven cars occurred with 100 laps to go. Clint Bowyer got into Matt Kenseth, who in turn got loose and then wrecked Jeff Gordon, among others. Gordon hit the inside wall on the driver’s side and was overheard saying on his radio, "Ahhh, that hurt."
David Reutimann, Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin, Paul Menard and Bobby Labonte also were involved in the wreck, but Gordon was done for the day after sustaining heavy damage to his car.
After being released from the Infield Care Center, Gordon said, "It knocked the wind out of me a little bit."
"I seem to find the ones [walls] without the SAFER barrier," Gordon lamented.
On the restart, Earnhardt spun his wheels and lost valuable position, while Kyle Busch aggressively raced to the front of the pack. Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, two drivers who’d had a relatively quiet race up to that point, snuck into the top 10.
Early race action was full of slipping and sliding — cars and drivers — but nothing to bring out the caution flag.
Kahne, who had a minor surgical procedure on his knee recently, was heard on the radio telling his crew, "My foot’s sliding all over the floor." Kahne had a very solid first half of the race, hanging around the top 10 spots and also becoming one of the race’s early lap leaders.
Gordon took the lead halfway through the race, but the race’s intensity really picked up when both Gordon and Kyle Busch battled for position. Busch eventually took over first place from Gordon, who complained to his spotter Jeff Dickerson, "Way too [freaking] loose here."
Some veteran drivers had issues early in the race. By Lap 79, Stewart was no longer on the lead lap. Earnhardt expressed his concern over the radio, saying, "I’m just loose as (expletive) … just not in the middle." And five-time defending Sprint Cup champion Johnson struggled to keep his car in a smooth rhythm, causing crew chief Chad Knaus to warn him if that he didn’t go easier through the turns, he was going to chew up his tires faster. Johnson, in a rare moment of outspoken frustration, responded back into his radio, "What do you want me to do, man?"
On their first scheduled pit stop, teammates Kyle Busch and Hamlin had almost a five-second discrepancy between their times — Busch’s crew recorded a 12.9-second pit time, while Hamlin’s was 17.7. Hamlin was clearly agitated, asking crew chief Mike Ford over the radio, "Who’s the leader of this freaking race?" Ford responded with, "The 18 [Kyle Busch], stay calm. We’ll get you back into this race."
Hamlin made an early charge from his starting position of 11th to take the lead from Kahne on Lap 73.