Previous to Saturday night, Cale Yarborough was the only driver in the history of the Cup Series to win a race on his birthday (he pulled off the feat twice, at two different racetracks, North Wilkesboro and Bristol).
Well, after Saturday night, Cale has some company.
Kyle Busch started in 14th, but immediately made great use of the second groove to move up the order. Most of the major passes Busch made on Saturday night, including the final pass for the lead on lap 352, were made on the outside.
After the race, Busch was satisfied with his effort.
“This is a great effort by the whole team,” Busch said in the post-race press conference. “That Combos Toyota was good. It wasn’t great, but it was good, and good enough to matter most when we needed to win here.”
Second place went to Tony Stewart in the Office Depot Chevrolet. Stewart was generally pleased with his performance.
“I was most impressed tonight with our pit crew,” Stewart said. “We had one bad stop that we lost about six spots, but the majority of the night, I mean, they were gaining us track position.”
Jeff Burton followed Stewart over the line in third place. Stewart’s teammate, Ryan Newman, brought his U.S. Army-sponsored Chevrolet home fourth. Stewart, during the post-race press conference, claimed that “…Ryan’s fourth-place run was more impressive than our [second]-place run.” Mark Martin had another great run with a fifth-place finish.
Sam Hornish Jr., who had his first career top-10 finish just two weeks ago at Phoenix, claimed another career-best finish with a sixth on Saturday, followed by Jamie McMurray. Jeff Gordon, who was leading the race late, dropped back to eighth after Busch passed him. Gordon’s team tried to stretch the last set of tires 126 laps, but they simply wore out on the four-time champion. Casey Mears finished a season-best ninth after starting 41st. Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top 10.
This race will be best remembered for some of the wild action back in the field, some of which resulted in close calls for drivers. Also, the race had a record-tying 15 cautions. With the free pass in play, this allowed 26 cars to finish on the lead lap.
Points Standings (Top 12)
After losing the points lead because of the early-race crash at Talladega last week, Gordon came back to run very well at Richmond. A late-race decision to forgo a caution flag stop in order to lead the race resulted in Gordon falling back through the field in the closing laps. An eighth-place finish, though, was enough for Gordon to regain the points lead, albeit by only 10 points over Kurt Busch. Stewart is now up to third in the standings after a second-place finish on Saturday night. He is only 39 points out of the lead. Denny Hamlin is up a spot to fourth after a 14th-place finish. Hamlin led 148 laps before the handle went away.
Kyle Busch’s victory boosted the Gibbs driver up to fifth in the points, only seven points behind his teammate Hamlin. Jimmie Johnson was the big loser of the weekend, dropping three spots to sixth after brake problems and being involved in two cautions resulted in a 36th-place finish, 32 laps down. Burton is up two positions to seventh after a third-place finish. Clint Bowyer, who has struggled in recent weeks, maintained his eighth spot after an 18th-place run.
Carl Edwards is down two places to ninth after a bad weekend all around at Richmond. A bad qualifying run Friday meant starting 37th. A spin after contact with David Stremme kept him back in the pack for the most of the night, eventually coming home as the last car on the lead lap in 26th. Newman enters the top 10 for the first time this season after a fourth-place finish. Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth closely follow behind Newman. There are only 17 points separating Edwards in ninth from Kenseth in 12th. David Reutimann is 31 points behind Kenseth in 13th after a late-race crash put him back to a 28th-place finish.
Around the 35th place Cut-off
At Richmond, there was no movement of teams into, or out of, the Top 35. However, there was some movement amongst the teams at the bottom of the top 35. Robby Gordon had a fairly good run at Richmond, bringing his Energizer-sponsored Toyota home in the 16th position after starting 36th. This moves the No. 7 off of the bubble, but up only one place to 34th. He is 25 points ahead of the No. 34 of Front Row Motorsports’ John Andretti, and 69 points ahead of the No. 82 team for the Red Bull Racing Team, which is 36th in owner points.
Behind the cut-off, there appear to be very few teams that can legitimately challenge for the spot. Scott Speed’s No. 82 is the closest at the moment, but they had a bad night. A great eighth place in qualifying devolved into a horrible race, which saw the silver Red Bull Toyota lapped early and often. Speed eventually finished eight laps down in 33rd.
We also saw what is probably the end of TRG Motorsports’ chances to re-enter the Top 35 this season. Electrical problems put the No. 71 in the garage early on, giving the team a 39th-place finish. The team is still in 37th in owner points but now lies 103 points out of 35th.
Other teams, like Tommy Baldwin Racing’s No. 36, are simply struggling in general. On Saturday, the team started the race without a backup ignition system installed. Their one ignition failed early in the race, forcing the team to retire after only 54 laps.