Kyle Busch dominated Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway, but Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson made him earn the victory and the weekend sweep in Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race. Pulling away in the closing laps, Busch earned his second straight Bristol sweep, has won four of the last five Cup races at Bristol and has stood in Victory Lane in the last five NASCAR national series races at the track.
“It was a lot harder today, to be honest,” Busch said in Victory Lane. “Carl kept me honest there. I was making a couple mistakes, but nothing we couldn’t rebound from.”
“You just have to pace yourself sometimes and sometimes you got to go for it and go through the middle,” he added. “There were a couple lapped cars that kind of helped me a little bit and I just kind of gave way.”
With a string of cautions bunching up the field for a total of four restarts in the final 65 laps, Busch, Edwards and Johnson fought lap after lap for the top spot. Running the top of the track, Busch was able to hold off the charge from behind while navigating through traffic in the final ten laps.
Edwards was able to get to the bumper of Busch, give him a shot, but not enough to move him. Instead of worrying about their previous history – both recent and in the past – Busch explained he was simply trying to drive away.
“Carl tried to make it interesting,” Busch said. “Gave me a little bit of a shot there. Kept it straight somehow this year. Didn’t have any fall back from 2008.”
“I told him after Phoenix I still owe him one. But I’ll save it up,” said Edwards. “But, I was just talking to Jimmie on the way over here. We were running so hard at that point in the run, I don’t know that you could really bump a guy and just move him. You might cause a big wreck, might wreck yourself. Jimmie was right behind us.”
Coming home second, Edwards earned his third top-2 finish in four races and moved into second in the standings, one point behind Kurt Busch.
“It’s no fun to run second,” he said. “When I look at the big picture, the fact that I’m sitting here frustrated about a second-place, one or two points out of the points lead, that’s a huge jump from a year ago.”
Leading a race-high 164 laps, it appeared Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet was the class of the field for much of the race, but that all changed on the final stop of the day on Lap 430. Johnson led Busch, Kevin Harvick, Edwards, Greg Biffle and the rest of the lead lap cars to pit road under caution. On the stop, one of Johnson’s crew members slipped, slowing the stop down. While Johnson entered the pits first he would leave fourth, as it was Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew that sent the No. 18 car off pit road with the lead.
With control of the restart on the outside line, Busch was able to get a great run on each restart as Edwards and Johnson were able to look to the inside, but nothing more.
“We didn’t get off pit road first and I really think that is where the race was done at that point especially with Kyle,” Johnson said. “He knows how to control the starts, he knows how to take advantage of a clean race track, restarts well. He really had control from that point on and it was the rest of us racing for second, third and fourth.”
While Busch is one of the best in the sport at restarts, it was the high line that truly made the difference in the end. Restarting the race with the lead, Busch took the outside line every time and was able to pin the other car on the bottom of the track and get a better run off the corner.
“If you can control the race on the restarts, that outside lane has a big advantage, there’s a big advantage going up through the gears,” Johnson explained. “There’s something with the banking, the transition off the corner onto the straight where you can really launch on that outside lane.”
“You’re not having to hold the car so tight on the bottom of the race track, slow it down, get it to turn,” Busch said. “Take an off-ramp or an on-ramp from a freeway to a freeway that kind of circles around and goes back the other way, run on the inside real tight see how much wheel you have to put in it, and then run on the outside and see how much less wheel you have to put in it. You can carry more momentum and speed up there.
“When you get launched down a straightaway, I don’t know what the degree of banking here is, 28, 30 degrees, you’re running down that banking, it’s momentum, instead of coming out of a hole uphill spinning your tires,” he added. “That’s basically what the differences are in the two lines, why the outside is better on restarts.”
As Busch, Edwards and Johnson battled for the lead, Matt Kenseth was able to come home fourth, his best finish of the season. Struggling for the majority of the day with a mid-pack car, crew chief Jimmy Fennig was able to make the right adjustments and put them in contention.
“It was a struggle all day,” Kenseth said. “I’m thrilled with our finish. It’s the highest up we ran all day. We struggled between about a seventh or eighth-place car in a best-case scenario to about a 20th-place car at times. [The crew] made some great adjustments on that last stop and got real lucky getting in the right row on the restarts and we were able to make some ground up there at the end when we needed to.”
Paul Menard started fourth and took the lead early, surprising many. Leading for the first time at Bristol, Menard ran a solid top-10 for the majority of the day. Fading a bit in the mid-section of the race, the newest member of Richard Childress Racing fought back to a fifth-place finish despite apparently being down a cylinder for the final half of the race.
With a career best points finish of 23rd, Menard is currently fifth in the standings four races into his relationship with RCR.
“What’s cool is we’ve been to four different race tracks and we’ve had strong runs at all four,” he said. “A testament to Slugger (Richard Labbe, crew chief) and everyone at RCR. There is a lot of talent up there. Slugger built a hell of a race team and just having a lot of fun right now.”
Kevin Harvick recovered from a late-race wreck to finish sixth, while Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-10.
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