Kyle Busch celebrates his victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Food City 500 auto race in Bristol, Tenn., on Sunday. It was his second Sprint Cup victory of the season.AP photo
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Kyle Busch was furious when his pit crew cost him a win at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he angrily ditched his car on the race track and headed to his motorhome on foot.
A day later, he drove it to Victory Lane.
Busch bounced back from one of his many Bristol heartbreaks with an impressiver victory Sunday, leading 378 of 503 laps for his second Sprint Cup Series victory of the season. Ironically, it was his crew that deserved much of the credit.
His Joe Gibbs Racing team got him out front ahead of teammate Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson on the final pit stop — critical track position that helped him hang on for the win.
“I told the ladies to ‘Man up, get the job done on the last stop,’ which they did,” Busch said. “I’m proud of them for doing that. When the time mattered most, they got the job done.”
Many of those team members were on his crew Saturday in the Nationwide Series race, which Busch also dominated before a pit road miscue took him out of contention. He led a race-high 157 laps and went into the pits on the final stop, only to be penalized by NASCAR when his crew let a tire slip away. He wound up sixth and showed his displeasure by refusing to drive his car back to his team truck after the race.
His crew had to retrieve it themselves from Turn 3. But if there were any lingering hard feelings, no one noticed.
“They appreciate what I do behind the wheel. I appreciate what they do on pit road. That’s a given in any team,” Busch said. “Those guys should hang their head for (Saturday), but then wake up the next morning rejuvenated and ready to go.
“There’s ways to get better in this sport, and the only way to do that is to jump back out there. It’s basically reviewing your fear. You just get back out there and do it over again.”
The win also was rewarding for Busch because he’s had so many slip away on the .533-mile bullring. Two of his near misses were last season, when he lost his power steering while leading last spring and was bumped from the front in August by Carl Edwards after leading 415 laps.
“We should have won here last fall, we should have won here yesterday,” Busch said. “This place probably owes me a few. But you can never ask a race track to pay you back. You just have to just keep working on it.”
Busch has now won a race in at least one of NASCAR’s top three series every weekend this season. It started with a victory in the non-points qualifying race at Daytona and followed with wins in the Truck and Nationwide Series at California, the Cup race at Las Vegas, and the Nationwide race at Atlanta.
Track position was critical as the race wound down, and Hamlin knew his best chance at catching his teammate was on pit road. Although his crew moved him from third to second on the final stop, it wasn’t enough and he had to settle for a second-place finish.
“He just has a way of taking off really, really good on the short run,” Hamlin said. “I knew unless we got out on pit road ahead of him on that last pit stop, it was going to be tough.”
Hamlin has had his own heartbreak at Bristol — he led 98 laps last spring and was headed to the win when a fuel pickup problem cost him the victory. In August he finished third, again behind Busch.
Defending three-time series champion Jimmie Johnson was third in a Chevrolet to tie his career-best Bristol finish, back in 2004. Johnson had devoted a good deal of time to figuring out why he’s struggled at Bristol, and the homework with crew chief Chad Knaus clearly paid off.
“What a day for us. I wish we had 500 more laps to go,” he said. “I have to thank Chad and the engineering staff for sitting me down a couple weeks ago to look at this race track and what I need here. I made my wish list and they gave me what I needed.”
Jeff Gordon, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, was fourth.
Kasey Kahne was fifth in a Dodge and followed by polesitter Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, defending race winner Jeff Burton and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Marcos Ambrose, in the spotlight after his gas man chased a tire across pit road two weeks ago at Atlanta, finished 10th.
A Busch brother has won the past three races. Kyle Busch won at Las Vegas earlier this month, and Kurt followed it with a win at Atlanta. Kurt Busch, a five-time Bristol winner, finished 11th on Sunday.
Travis Kvapil finished 18th in what was likely his final race for Yates Racing. The No. 28 team probably will be closed down on Monday morning due to a lack of sponsorship, making it the first casualty this year of the weakened economy. Several teams were shuttered last season as sponsorship became difficult to find during the economic crisis.
Yates racing general manager Max Jones said before the race he’d bring the No. 28 team back to the track if funding came through, but the team had paid out of pocket for the first five races this season and couldn’t afford to do so any longer. Bobby Labonte and Paul Menard also drive for Yates, but have full sponsorship.