From the drop of the green flag it appeared Kyle Busch was going to put on a snoozer. Leading the first 140 laps of the race, Busch put all but nine cars a lap down just 150 laps into the event. Dominating the first half of the race, the handling quickly went away giving the competition a false sense of opportunity.
Patiently working with crew chief Dave Rogers, Busch was able to capitalize on fresh tires and a series of late-race restarts to score his first win of the 2010 season, snapping a 21-race winless streak.
“Dave Rogers – I can’t thank Dave enough,” Busch said in victory lane. “It’s just unbelievable to be back in victory lane. A lot of people doubted what we were doing, but I never did.”
Leading a total of 226 laps, Busch’s victory was not as easy as it looked. After leading all but six of the first 229 laps, the handling of the car faded and so did Busch’s lead. Thanks to a call by Rogers to pit for tires on lap 373, Busch had the rubber to work back to the front and the tenacity to get the job done on two restarts with less than 20 laps to go.
“I didn’t know what the race was going to have in store for us there. Coming to get tires with 30 to go, you know, I felt like it was a good decision,” Busch said. “I didn’t know how many were going to follow behind us. We were out there for four or five laps on tires where we short pitted a little bit on that caution. The leaders, they only had about two or three laps on their tires.”
Busch went on to admit that had they stayed out with the others, they still had a car strong enough to win, but the call to pit was made to be safe rather than sorry.
While Busch and Rogers benefited from those late-race cautions, Hendrick Motorsports’ Jeff Gordon cringed at the sight of the yellow flags. With a solid lead over Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton and Kevin Harvick, Gordon was confident he was able to score the win. That is until the cautions flew and Busch lined up beside him on the final restart of the night.
“I knew I didn’t want to see cautions,” Gordon said. “Our car was not really very good on restarts, but, we were able to get a couple of good ones. Burton and Harvick were racing one another and we pulled away. I said, ‘please no cautions’ and sure enough, the caution came out. Kyle was really good on restarts and his car was really strong tonight on restarts. You didn’t want to have to race him on a shootout like that. We came out second. I had a great race with Harvick all the guys really all night. Great run for the DuPont Chevrolet. A little disappointed again that we are coming up short but we are getting plenty of practice at this green-white-checkered and these shootouts at the end. Hopefully when it counts later in the season, we’ll make it count.”
On those final two restarts, Busch put his game face on and jumped up on the wheel each time. With four fresh tires, Busch forced the issue on a restart with less than 15 laps to go by diving into the first corner three-wide with Harvick and Burton. The move worked out for Busch and, thanks to a caution with 10 laps to go, he was able to line up on the outside of Gordon for the final restart of the night.
“I just drove it down into turn 1 and hope it stuck,” Busch said. “I drove it too far and I got it pointed just in time and had a major drive up off the corner, and I knew I needed to baby it into turn 3 and try to get a good launch off of turn 4, as well. Finally, got to clear Jeff [Gordon] and got down to the bottom and set sail from there. Those guys got racing. It’s the best thing when you get out front and see the guys behind you racing and let you lead out there.”
The win was Busch’s first of the year and also the first Sprint Cup Series victory for crew chief Dave Rogers.
Thanks to those late-race cautions and Busch’s stout car on restarts, Gordon was once again denied a victory. With four top-three finishes in the first 10 races, Gordon has been in contention nearly each and every week, however he is still facing a 39-race winless streak. Despite not scoring the win, Gordon was pleased with his overall effort.
Coming home third was last week’s winner Harvick. One of the stronger cars on the evening, Harvick had to overcome a poor pit stop early in the race. Working his way back into the top five, Harvick remained a factor for the majority of the night, but in the end had nothing for Busch. His fourth top-three finish of the year propelled the driver of the No. 29 Chevrolet to the top of the series standings.
Saturday night’s race saw 12 lead changes among eight different drivers and was slowed six times by the caution flag. Next weekend the series heads to the ‘Lady In Black’ for the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.