It felt like deja vu as Kyle Busch celebrated his birthday in style again by winning the Sprint Cup race at the Richmond International Raceway for the third year in a row, reminding his fans that if ever he should leave them, how could it be in springtime? Busch dominated the track by leading 235 of the 400 laps that made up the “Matthew and Daniel Hansen 400.”
[media-credit id=5 align=”alignright” width=”230″][/media-credit]Hometown hero Denny Hamlin, who won the Nationwide race Friday night finished second, 1.805 seconds behind Busch. Kasey Kahne, David Ragan and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five.
Busch’s dominating win and Hamlin’s potential sweep were hardly the stars of the show as the Friday night lights of the Nationwide Series race made way for the Saturday night fights of the Sprint Cup! The caution flag flew eight times and tempers boiled after debris, spins and accidents littered the race track during the night.
The race started with a bang as pole-sitter, Juan Pablo Montoya led the field to the green flag. Hoping to be a strong contender and looking for a much needed short track win, Montoya held his position until lap 26 when Clint Bowyer slid under the Target Chevrolet and snatched the lead in turn two. The night was ending before it even began for Montoya, as on lap 27, Kasey Kahne shot by him to claim the 2nd spot in the field. Montoya’s hopes were not dashed as much as Robby Gordon’s, who on the same circuit when down a lap, the first of many more to come.
Kyle Busch, who started in the 20th position, cracked the top 10 on lap 31 as countless others continued to lose ground and laps. Tony Raines became the next driver to be lapped by the leaders, followed by Mike Skinner on lap 33. Lap 35 took no prisoners either as Joe Nemechek, J.J. Yeley and Ken Schrader all went a lap down. Shortly there after, all three drivers would take their cars to the garage for individual mechanical problems.
Lap 45 saw the third lead change, as Kahne got around Bowyer for position and lapped the cars of Michael McDowell, Andy Lally, David Stremme and Landon Cassill in the following ten laps. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin, who started 11th, strategically made his way through the pack as did Martin Truex Jr., who after starting 21st on the grid, claimed the 12th position on lap 64.
Laps 66-71 weren’t kind to Dave Blaney, Kurt Busch, Casey Mears, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Marcos Ambrose, who each got an eyeful of the No. 4 Toyota’s rear bumper as each went a lap down. Red Bull gave Kahne wings, but only until lap 73 when Hamlin took over the lead as both drivers crossed the start-finish line.
With no caution in sight, drivers continued to falter on the lead lap and are picked off one by one by the lead pack. Travis Kvapil, David Gilliland are victimized by the race leader on lap 75, followed by Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte on lap 79 and Jimmie Johnson on lap 83.
After a cycle of green-flag pit stops, only 21 cars were on the lead lap. The top five in the field are, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin and Kasey Kahne. The first yellow flag waved on lap 106 as Ryan Newman got into Montoya, sending the No. 42 into the wall, scattering debris on the track. The leaders hit pit road as Earnhardt, Labonte and Kvapil opt for the wave around to regain position on the lead lap.
Kyle Busch brings the field to green on lap 115 and claimed the lead as they went four-wide on the restart. Bowyer, Hamlin, Martin and Kahne make up the top five, but not for long. Jeff Gordon suddenly came on strong just three laps later taking the third position away from Bowyer on lap 118 while Busch and Hamlin fought for the lead with a 1.6 second lead over Gordon.
Montoya’s injured machine is shown in the 22nd position on lap 132, but can’t hang with the leaders for long. His car along with Labonte’s Toyota Camry go a lap down on 144. As the race progressed, lap 169 would see both Paul Menard and Brad Keselowski lapped by the leader of the pack, Kyle Busch.
Caution comes out for the second time on lap 185 for debris from Kurt Busch’s Shell/Pennzoil Dodge after hitting the wall in turn two on lap 184. Earnhardt Jr. receives the “lucky dog” pass and is back on the lead lap. The leaders hit pit road for fuel, tires and minor adjustments.
Busch brought the field to green once again on lap 193, followed by Hamlin, Martin, Gordon and Bowyer. The No. 18 Toyota Camry jumped out in front to maintain the lead while Hamlin lost the second spot to Gordon. Setting his sights on number one, Gordon dove to the inside of Busch on lap 200 and took the lead like he stole it, but like another thief in the night, Busch stole it back three laps later.
Predictions were made on lap 208 as Newman began expressing worry that Montoya might try to retaliate on the track for contact made between the drivers, bringing out the night’s first caution. It was a premonition that would prove true, on lap 236 Montoya served his revenge by sending Newman’s No. 39 Chevrolet around and into the wall. Kurt Busch, unable to slow down, hit Newman damaging both cars and bringing out the caution for the third time.
Hamlin brings the field to green on lap 244, followed by Kyle Busch, Gordon, Truex Jr., and Bowyer. Busch jumps the restart and is forced to slow down, while Montoya is warned by NASCAR to run clean for the remainder of the race or he will be parked. An irate Newman could be heard on the radio wondering why Montoya hadn’t been penalized for what he thought was an “intentional retaliation,” but vowed to settle their differences after the race and not on the track.
Truex Jr. made a bold move that took him from the fourth position to the lead on lap 246 just before the caution flag flew for the fourth time on lap 255. Jimmie Johnson and Joey Logano were recognized for the first time during the race, but sadly not because of their flawless driving abilities. Johnson got into Logano in turn two, spinning the Home Depot Toyota and sending him into the wall. It was however a much needed break for Tony Stewart who received the free pass and was back on the lead lap.
The green flag waved again on lap 264 with a slight change in lineup. Matt Kenseth brought the field to the green, followed by David Reutimann, Kahne, Carl Edwards and Hamlin. Barely making it across the start-finish line, the yellow flag came out for the fifth time as Casey Mears spun in turn one during the restart. Jeff Burton receives the free pass and is back on the lead lap. Brian Vickers, in the 19th spot, is the highest-running car to pit.
Whoever said that cautions breed cautions wasn’t lying! The green flag waved again on lap 270 and it almost isn’t worth it to mention who the top five were because nine laps later the yellow flag waved for the sixth time as Brad Keselowski and Landon Cassill got into each other in turn two, spinning Keselowski’s blue deuce, but avoided any contact with the wall.
By now you know the drill, some cars pitted, while others opted to stay out. Let’s continue, we still have over 100 laps to go!
Hamlin brought the field to the green on lap 284, followed by Truex Jr., Kenseth, Busch and Kahne. Busch wasted no time jumping from fourth to second before wrestling with teammate Hamlin for the lead.
Keselowski spun again on lap 292, bringing out the caution for the seventh time. Johnson gets the free pass and is back on the lead lap. The field restarts on lap 299 as the drivers manage to bunch up four wide causing many of the leaders to get in to one another. The caution is back out on lap 301 after Gordon’s car spun out after contact from Kenseth and slamming hard into the corner of the inside wall , knocking the wind out of the driver of the DuPont Chevrolet. Along with Gordon, Menard, Martin, Reutimann, Labonte, McMurray and Kenseth all suffer damage while that sneaky Dave Blaney gets the free pass and got back on the lead lap.
Menard and Reutimann hit pit road on lap 307 for repairs, while Gordon’s car is towed off the track, his night is over, finishing a dismal 39th.
The green flag waved again with fresh faced lineup on lap 313. Jeff Burton lead the field, followed by Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Busch and Hamlin. Earnhardt Jr. spun the tires of the National Guard Chevrolet during the restart unveiling an opportunity for Busch to move into the 2nd position. Three laps later Busch passed Burton for the lead and never looked back!
With less than 40 laps to go, the discussion turned to fuel strategy. Who could make it and who couldn’t? Busch’s camp said it was “iffy” that he could make it to the end. Truex Jr. could make it to lap 399. Hamlin could make it to 400. Kahne could make it. Burton and Earnhardt Jr. could not make it and would have to pit.
We will never know if perhaps Truex Jr. could have squeezed out an extra lap of fuel, on lap 371 he pitted for a tire going down. He was black-flagged for missing a lug nut taking him out of contention for what was undoubtedly a great run for he and his crew. Add insult to injury, after his pit stop, he was penalized with a “pass-through penalty” after exiting pit road too fast.
On lap 382, Busch put Biffle and Blaney a lap down leaving 13 cars on the lead lap. Burton then went a lap down because he had to pit for fuel on lap 384. Harvick would be the next to be lapped on 388. Earnhardt Jr. pitted on lap 390 for fuel, leaving only 10 cars on the lead lap.
The last ten laps of the race went off without a hitch. Despite Hamlin showing to be a “little faster” on the track, Busch maintained his lead and took the checkered flag for the third consecutive year. Hamlin finished second, followed by Kahne, Ragan and Edwards.