While several drivers during and after the Toyota/Save Mart 350 were dialing “V” for Vendetta, Kurt Busch was dialing “V” for victory as he took the Toyota/Save Mart 350 victory in dominating fashion at Infineon Raceway Sunday afternoon, leading 76 out of 110 laps while employing a two-stop strategy.
“It was an unbelievable setup.” stated Busch after the race. “Once we got into the groove with this car, it seemed to get better after lap 5 or 6. Our cars have never done that before. I’m real proud of this Dodge team, everybody from Shell and Pennzoil. That was an awesome handling Dodge. I’m so proud of these guys for really stepping up after what we’ve been through.”
Joey Logano won the pole for the race, clocking in at 93.256 miles an hour with Jamie McMurray on the outside front row. The race went green for the first 34 laps until Casey Mears’ car stalled at the entrance of pit road, running out of fuel as the first caution of the day came out. This bunched up the field and officially started the carnage that this race will probably be best remembered for.
Five laps later, the second caution of the afternoon came out when Brian Vickers spun in Turn 11, collecting Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Kyle Busch had put a wheel off at Turn 10 and Vickers had dived to the right to avoid Kyle. Stewart interpreted Vickers’ move as a blatant block and dumped him. McMurray and Earnhardt, Jr. were simply innocent bystanders.
The fourth caution came out after a somewhat inexplicable incident. Michael McDowell turned Bobby Labonte head-on into the turn 11 wall on Lap 60. Replays made the move by McDowell, running a rare full race, seem intentional. On lap 88, the fifth and final caution of the afternoon came out when Brian Vickers repaid Tony Stewart for his earlier encounter, sending Stewart hard into the turn 11 tire barriers. Stewart described the two encounters with Vickers thusly.
“I dumped him earlier for blocking and he got me back later on,” Stewart was quoted as saying after the race. “If they block, they are going to get dumped. It is real simple. I mean I don’t blame him, I don’t blame him for dumping us back. But, I don’t race guys that way, I never have. If guys want to block then they are going to wrecked every time. Until NASCAR makes a rule against it, I am going to dump them every time for it. He did what he had to do, I don’t blame him, there is nothing wrong with it.”
Vickers, for his part, insisted after the race that he did not block Stewart. Instead, he insisted that his move was an avoidance manuever.
Kurt Busch reassumed the lead for the final time during the final caution when the remaining off-sequence drivers had to pit for fuel and tires on Lap 88. From there, Kurt never looked back as his two pit-stop strategy allowed him to pull into Victory Lane.
“We just had to conserve our rear tires.” Busch said about the strategy. “That was the main thought. Once we had enough fuel to make it, I started to pick up my pace. I didn’t want guys to think they had a shot at us and I was able to stretch it out.”
Jeff Gordon finished second, 2.685 seconds behind Busch with Carl Edwards,Clint Bowyer, and Marcos Ambrose rounding out the top-5.
Gordon reflected upon his performance after the race.
“It was as much a statement to us as anything else,” Gordon said. “You know [it was] a great effort by this DuPont Chevrolet team and Alan and everybody. It was a struggle. I’ve got to tell you we really missed the set up at the beginning of this race. I don’t know just the adjustments we made were that good or the track position or the track changing at the end. It looked like a lot of guys were really, really struggling with grip there at the end and our car was actually pretty good. We were fast and I think we were faster than the leaders. That felt awesome to start there with old tires and be able to work through traffic all the way up to second, man that was amazing.”
Third place finisher Carl Edwards was just thrilled to leave with a good points day.
“I am really proud of my team for the way we battled today,” Edwards said. “It was just a crazy race and for us to be able to work our way up to where we finished just says a ton about my Aflac crew and Bob [Osbourne] and everyone. To be able to escape out of here with a top-3 is a good day with us, especially considering everything that went on out there.”
Sixth through tenth was pole-sitter Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex, Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski, who survived a late-race encounter with Juan Pablo Montoya to finish tenth. Montoya, who spun on Lap 104 after contact from Keselowski, finished a distant 22nd.
The average race speed was 75.411 mph with five caution flags for a total of 17 laps. Next week, the Sprint Cup Series returns to Daytona Beach, Florida for the Coke Zero 400.
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