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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Big 6: Questions Answered After the 2010 Crown Royal Presents the Heath Calhoun 400 at Richmond

Who… has led the most laps en route to a win in 2010?

Kyle Busch dominated the opening laps of Saturday night’s Heath Calhoun 400, faded in the middle stages of the race and then capitalized on late-race cautions to score his first victory of the 2010 season. Leading a total of 226 laps, Busch put on one of the most dominant performance of the season… but was it the most dominant?

Teammate Denny Hamlin led 172 laps on his way to the win in Texas, while Kurt Busch paced the field for 129 laps before winning the event in Atlanta. However, it was the younger Busch brother’s performance at Richmond that was clearly the most dominant of the season thus far.

What… happened to Kyle Busch in the middle of the race?

After dominating the early stages of the race, Kyle Busch began to lose the handling of the No. 18 Toyota mid-way through the event. Losing the lead to Jeff Burton on lap 230, Busch began to slip back and fade away from the front.

Over the radio, Busch complained about losing the center off and even told his crew to get ready because he thought he had a tire going down. Discussing the issue with crew chief Dave Rogers, Busch questioned whether or not they put themselves two stops behind everyone else by not making the right adjustments.

As the runs went on and Rogers continued to make adjustments, the handling came back to the car and four fresh tires with less than 30 laps to go put Busch in the position he needed to be in to score the victory.

“What did we fall back to, fifth or something like that? It felt like 15th, for as bad as we were running,” Busch said.

“For the old Kyle Busch, he would have folded,” Busch later added. “The new one, he stuck in there, he dug hard. He kept going.”

Where… will Jeff Gordon break through and finally visit victory lane?

Facing a 39-race winless streak, Jeff Gordon is on the verge of scoring a win nearly every week. In the first ten races of the year Gordon has four top-three finishes and has been in position to win nearly every week. Despite being as competitive as he has in years, Gordon has not been able to find themselves in victory lane.

“I’ve been doing this long enough to know they don’t give out trophies for leading any lap other than the last one,” Gordon said. “You know, we’re a team that’s made huge strides, in my opinion, from last year. Even though we finished third in the points last year, I don’t feel we were near as competitive as we are right now. That’s what I’m excited about. We’re leading laps, a bunch of laps, at a lot of different types of tracks. I think our team is really on top of our game.”

*With tracks Gordon has been successful at coming up on the schedule (Darlington, Charlotte, Dover, etc.), it can’t be long before Gordon and the No. 24 team are able to seal the deal.

When… did Kyle Busch score his last win?

Since entering the Sprint Cup Series in 2005, winning came as second nature to Kyle Busch. However, following his victory in the night race at Bristol last August it seemed the well had run dry for Busch and the No. 18 team. Prior to this dry spell, the longest Busch had gone without a win was 16 races. Saturday, Busch snapped a 21-race winless streak.

“As far as not being able to win in 21 races, shucks, darn, gee, golly, sorry,” Busch said. “I certainly wish it wasn’t 21 races. But, you know, it was a long end of the year last year. You know, we maybe should have won a few weeks ago. But it doesn’t work out that way sometimes.”

Saturday night, it all worked out.

Why… didn’t anyone stay out to keep all those cars from being wave around cars?

When the second caution flag of the evening fell on lap 154, Kyle Busch had put all but eight cars a lap down. Less than 10 laps from their previous stop, all eight cars ducked on to pit road for service. 19 cars opted to stay out and receive the wave around before the restart. As a result, all of Busch’s work lapping those cars was null and void. Had one of the top-eight cars stayed on the track, none of those cars one lap down would have been able to take advantage of the rule. So why didn’t anyone take the chance?

“It would have been great to keep that many cars a lap down,” winning crew chief Dave Rogers said. “It would have been selfish. 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.

“I didn’t think keeping those cars a lap down was going to help us win the race,” Rogers added. “I thought keeping the track position was going to help us win the race.”

Third-place finisher Kevin Harvick agreed.

“For me, none of those cars were the cars we were racing,” Harvick said. “They were just not in any consideration of what we needed to do strategy-wise. We needed to stay in the strategy with the [Nos.] 31, 24, the 18, because those were the cars we raced all night.”

How… has Kyle Busch matured into the “new Kyle” he talked about after the race?

Despite falling off in the middle stages of the race, Kyle Busch was able to patiently work with the team on what adjustments to make, all while maintaining the best track position possible. Afterwards, even Busch admitted in years past he would not have been able to be as patient to weather the bad patch of the race and come out on top. So what has changed over the last few years to make this ‘new Kyle’ emerge?

“You know, I think it’s a lot of everything,” Busch said. “To be honest with you, I think, shoot, man, I turn 25 tomorrow, I’m getting old. I feel that way anyway.

“But, you know, it’s got somewhat to do with the truck stuff. It’s got somewhat to do with [fiancée] Samantha, of course. It’s got a lot to do with Dave. With Dave coming onboard, I knew we weren’t going to come out of the gate right away and win.”

Team owner Joe Gibbs pointed to Kyle’s Nationwide championship in 2009 as one reason for his new maturity. During that run for the title, Busch needed to implement patience and now that is paying off on the Cup side.