Kyle Busch dominates for Toyota 1-2 at Bristol
One day after an errant tire cost him a shot at a victory in the Nationwide Series, Kyle Busch returned to Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday and did what he does best – take the checkered flag and dominate the competition while doing it.
With last Saturday’s pit road gaffe still fresh in his mind, Busch went on to lead 378 of 502 laps to hold off his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in a green-white-checkered finish to win the Food City 500 for his 14th career Sprint Cup victory.
Jimmie Johnson was third, followed by Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne.
“It’s pretty awesome. We should’ve won here last fall and we should’ve won here yesterday. It was a good day for us,” said Busch. “The Snickers Toyota was really fast. We knew it was fast. We knew it was going to be a good racecar coming here from our performance last fall. We fine-tuned on it a little bit here and there.
“We need to work on the qualifying package a little bit. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter where you start here. You have to bide your time, take it easy when you have a car that’s good.
“It was a very satisfying day today,” added Busch, with a shameless nod to his sponsor.
During Saturday’s race, Busch also had the most dominant car of the day, leading a race-high 157 laps before the final pit stop of the day, where the spent right rear tire got away from the crew and rolled onto pit road, earning Busch a costly penalty that cost him the race.
“Yesterday was yesterday. We put that behind us,” said Busch. “Yeah, it was very frustrating. It's one you'll never get back. It's lost, gone. We looked forward to today. Everybody put their job from yesterday behind them but thought about how to make today better and not have those same mistakes happen again.”
Saturday’s Nationwide race wasn’t the first time a Bristol victory slipped away from Busch.
After leading a race-high 415 laps here last August, Busch was muscled out of the way by Carl Edwards with 30 laps to go as Edwards went on to win the race.
This time, even though it was a teammate in his rear-view mirror, Busch wasn’t going to let anybody get in his way.
“It was a teammate behind me, so I was hoping he was going to be good, not get into me anything like that, what happened last year,” said Busch. “I've got full belief in Denny, trust him. So it was a great race for us. If it came down to it the reverse way, if I couldn't get by him clean, I wouldn't try too hard to make it worse for the both of us.”
In a twist of irony, after the pit road mistake on Saturday, it was Busch’s final pit stop of the day that put him over the top, beating Hamlin and Johnson off pit road to put him in the lead for good with 57 laps to go.
Once back out in front, Busch led the remaining scheduled laps before his other JGR teammate Joey Logano blew an engine with five laps to go, setting up a green-white-checkered finish.
Busch restarted the race with Hamlin in tow, getting a great jump while Hamlin had his hands full holding off Johnson for second, leaving Busch to run uncontested to the finish.
“I knew unless we got out on pit road ahead of him on that last pit stop, it was going to be tough,” said Hamlin. “Fortunately for us, I felt like we had a shot even at the end of the race. But that last caution, we were able to stay within two or three car lengths. That's as close as we'd been all day on the short run.
“It's a positive that we come out of here. On average we had about a second place car. I felt like we had a third place car on the short run, and a first place car on the long run. But that's just one of those things. You take today, it puts us in the Chase right now. So that's a good day for us.”
While Busch avoided any further problems in the pits, Johnson’s final stop proved to be a pivotal moment in the race, as his pit crew experienced a problem with the left rear tire that cost Johnson a shot at the win.
“Whoever came out in the lead on the last pit stop was going to be in pretty good shape,” said Johnson. “We all kind of assumed there would be a couple cautions. The stop before that I held onto the lead for quite some time. Maybe didn't have the fastest car over the whole run, but took off well.
“We had a little trouble on that pit stop but third place is awfully good. If we had a couple quick cautions, I think I could have held on till the end.”
Jeff Gordon retains the series points lead by 76 over Kurt Busch. Clint Bowyer holds onto third while Kyle Busch jumps up three spots to fourth in points ahead of Carl Edwards.
Sunday’s race also marked a turning point in the series standings, as the top-35 are now determined by the current season’s points.
Polesitter Mark Martin came into Sunday’s race dangerously close to falling out of the top-35, but his sixth-place finish boosted him to 31st in the standings. John Andretti, Logano and David Gilliland also leave Bristol with a guaranteed spot in next week’s race.
Among the bubble teams on the outside looking in are Scott Speed and Aric Almirola, along with both of the Yates Racing entries of Paul Menard and Travis Kvapil.
All teams outside the top-35 must qualify in speed for next weeks race at Martinsville, but Yates Racing has said unless a sponsor can be found for Kvapil’s no. 28 Ford, the team will cease operations.
* Denotes Rookie
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