Busch edges Gordon
RICHMOND, Va. — Four times this season, Jeff Gordon has been in position for a win.
He came up short all four times.
Kyle Busch became the latest driver to deny Gordon a victory, passing him after the final restart Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway for his first win of the season.
For Busch, it snapped a 21-race losing streak, his longest since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2008.
“It stinks to not win every single weekend or not every 21 weekends or 21 races,” Busch said. “But it certainly feels nice to come out here with another good win and get another good finish.”
Gordon saw his drought reach 38 races. Since his last win, at Texas last April, Gordon has finished second a frustrating eight times.
“A little disappointed again that we are coming up short, but we are getting plenty of practice,” Gordon said. “It’s a little disappointing we haven’t won some races yet. If we keep doing this, those will come. We’ve got to keep putting ourselves in position.”
Busch embarrassed the field early — at one point, there were only eight cars on the lead lap — but the racing evened out and Busch’s car faded just a bit. That gave Gordon a chance to move to the front and perhaps finally close out a race.
But three late cautions gave the challengers a chance to chase Gordon down, and Busch capitalized with a pass on the final restart.
“I don’t even remember what just happened,” Busch said. “I drove it down into Turn 1 and hoped it stuck. I knew I had to baby it into Turn 3 and finally got to clear Jeff. We set sail there from there.”
Indeed he did, as Gordon had to hold off Kevin Harvick to keep second place.
“I’ve been doing this long enough to know that they don’t give out trophies for leading any lap other than the last one,” Gordon said.
The race was unbelievably fast at the start. Busch lapped car after car through the first 150 laps until only seven others were still running with him. A pair of cautions for debris allowed everybody to catch up under NASCAR’s “wave around” rule, and Busch finally had some competition.
That could have prevented had just one of the eight cars on the lead lap not pitted, an idea Gordon and Harvick dismissed because they needed to stay on sequence with Busch, the dominant car.
But Busch, as the leader, set the tone and could have stayed out. Crew chief Dave Rogers, celebrating his first Cup victory, said doing so would have been shortsighted.
“It would have been great to keep that many cars a lap down, but it would have been selfish,” Rogers said. “Everybody behind us was going to pit. If we stay out, we keep all those guys down. Then the seven guys behind us are going to drive by us, we’re going to lose our track position just to keep cars a lap down. It’s not worth it.”
Busch led 221 of the first 229 laps before his Toyota began to fade. Gordon eventually took command of the race, leading 144 late laps, but he knew he’d have to withstand a slew of late cautions to close out the win.
After just three cautions through the first 364 laps, there were three in the final 36 laps.
“Of course, it’s never easy,” Gordon grumbled over his radio.
Sam Hornish brought out the last yellow with a spin, and Gordon had Busch on his outside on the restart with five to go.
Busch completed his pass coming out of Turn 3, then pulled away in his Joe Gibbs Racing entry for his first win since Bristol last August. That Bristol victory was the lone bright spot for Busch during a late summer swoon that saw him miss the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and led to a crew-chief change late in the season.
JGR and Busch were criticized for replacing Steve Addington, who won 12 races with Busch, with Dave Rogers, who was promoted from the second-tier Nationwide Series. After guiding Busch to Victory Lane at Richmond, where Busch also won last May, the decision was vindicated.
“I can’t thank Dave enough,” Busch said. “It’s just unbelievable to be back in Victory Lane. A lot of people doubted what we were doing but I never did.”
Harvick was third and was followed by Richard Childress Racing teammate Jeff Burton as Chevrolets finished second through fourth.
Carl Edwards was fifth in a Ford, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Marcos Ambrose. Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top 10.
Denny Hamlin, from nearby Chesterfield, finished 11th and didn’t lead a lap at his hometown track for the first time in his career.
“For a lot of guys, it’s a decent finish and it’s a good finish,” said Hamlin, who won at the track in September. “For us, it’s a short track and it’s unacceptable.”