Kurt Busch is back and perhaps better than ever.
For the 26th time in his Sprint Cup Series career and second at Richmond International Raceway, Busch drove to Victory Lane for the Toyota Owners 400, snapping a 35-race winless drought.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Busch told FOX in Victory Lane. “It’s a total team effort and the way that everything came together, it just seemed like we were building and building towards a great finish like this.”
For the elder Busch, the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season started with a suspension by NASCAR that lasted three races. Even with a waiver granted for a possible Chase birth for the 36-year-old, most drivers would struggle to overcome the unfortunate spotlight to get their head back in the game, let alone be competitive.
But Busch led more laps in a single race (291) than in his prior 512 Sprint Cup starts. This was the fifth straight race Busch led laps and, after a few near-wins, finally was able to close the deal.
“I have this opportunity because of Gene Haas and everybody that’s part of our family at Stewart-Haas,” Busch continued. “It’s an unbelievable feeling when you pull deep from within and go through troubles. When you’re accused of something and things go sideways, your personal life doesn’t need to affect the business life and I’m here in Victory Lane. It feels great to do it here at Richmond.”
For the greater part of the Sunday afternoon, Busch was trailed by SHR teammate Kevin Harvick.
“What we really needed was all the tires to be the same,” said Harvick who finished second, 0.755 seconds behind Busch. “We put that one set of tires on and went back to 12th or 13th and wound up making up the spots.”
To join the tire troubles, the No. 4 team also experienced trackbar issues.
“Trackbar broke and we weren’t able to get the trackbar back where it needed to be,” Harvick continued. “That got us way behind.”
Following a tough Friday qualifying session, Jimmie Johnson took the green flag in the 36th position. Fighting hard to a third, Johnson said they are “making the most of these poor starts.”
“We had a great race car,” Johnson said. “We really felt like that was the case on Friday except for our qualifying lap. Those last few restarts I was able to hang on and duke it out with those guys and get a nice top 3 finish.”
“[The car] wouldn’t take off real quick but after 30 laps it was, I thought, the same as the leaders,” said McMurray, grabbing his second top five of 2015. “It was so much fun at the end to be that much quicker than those guys. It kind of reminded me of the old Darlington or old Rockingham when somebody would take off and there would be the guy that couldn’t go that would come at the end.”
From the pole, Logano led the opening 94 laps before falling victim to Busch.
“We rallied to a top five out of the whole thing so that was good,” Logano said. “We have to figure out how to be better in the middle part of the run when we come back.”
After being asked about the contact, Earnhardt replied, “I don’t know, you have to ask (Stewart). He hit me in the left-rear corner panel. I was trying to clear the [No.] 51 on the outside of me so I was just as high as I could go.”
The fourth SHR car of Danica Patrick had an eventful day, avoiding a number of accidents by the skin of her teeth, later finishing 25th, two laps down.
Chase Elliott made his second Sprint Cup start in a fifth Hendrick Motorsports entry, starting and finishing 16th.
“I thought we had a fast car,” Elliott said. “Had a great car on the long run, we could really run well and run some guys down late in the run. We will try to get better and try to have a better run at Charlotte.”
The race was run on a Sunday after rain postponed the event Saturday night.