NASCAR: Round 10 – Heath Calhoun 400, Richmond – May 1

Polesitter Kyle Busch dominated the early stages of this week’s race at Richmond International Speedway, but then needed a series of restarts in the closing laps to put himself back into contention for the win at the end.

Kyle took the lead for the first 143 laps of the race, which saw Jeff Gordon move up and settle into second place and the two of them drop off the rest of the pack led by Kevin Harvick in third. Busch’s lead lasted through the first caution (on lap 42 for Joe Nemechek hitting the wall after blowing a tyre) and consequent pit stops.

Busch finally surrendered the lead when green flag pit stops, but he was back on top again two laps later when it was time for Gordon’s own stop. Shorttly afterwards a second caution came out for debris on track, and it was much to the relief of Jimmie Johnson, who was surprisingly off colour and just gone a lap down. The caution meant he got the free pass.

Kyle kept the lead, but the green flag only lasted ten laps before another caution on lap 170 for a water bottle which was lying on the backstretch. This time, Ryan Newman got the best of the pit stops – opting for two tyres only after such a short stint – and he took the lead at the restart only to instantly have Kyle reclaim it again next time around, with Jeff Burton passing Jeff Gordon for second and Juan Montoya moving into fourth.

Just when things were looking compelling for Kyle, problems set in: smoke was seen coming out of the back of the 18 on lap 211, and a couple of laps later Kyle reported that the car was indeed slower. The performance issues meant that Jeff Burton was able to cut the gap to the leader and take the top spot on lap 230, and the ailing Busch lost second to Jeff Gordon ten laps later, despite Gordon reporting that his car was bad and that he was suffering from brake trouble.

Gordon went on to take the lead of the race on lap 250, as Kyle’s problems continued to mount – falling to fourth on lap 255 and pleading with his team to hit pit road early. But he wasn’t the only driver to be experiencing major drop-off in performance – Jimmie Johnson called in to say that the 48 felt like it had fallen off a cliff and was now undriveably tight, and most cars reported significantly slower lap times.

After green flag pit stops, Jeff Gordon resumed in the lead, with Kevin Harvick moving up into second ahead of Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson briefly taking fourth before Kyle retook the spot and Johnson also got passed by Montoya for fifth.

The race ran caution-free for just five shy of a full two hundred laps before the fourth yellow of the afternoon on lap 367 which resulted from Elliott Sadler blowing a tyre and stopping on track, an incident that also caught up Kasey Kahne and Joey Logano – but both of whom were able to continue. Jeff Gordon continued to lead at the restart ahead of Burton and Harvick, with Busch now down to sixth behind Ryan Newman after opting for the more time consuming four tyres during his pit stop.

The restart didn’t last long: David Ragan spun after hitting Sam Hornish Jr going into turn 2. Only a few cars opted to pit so soon after their previous yellow flag stops – Johnson came in for four new tyres – and so the race was back to green on lap 385. The double file restart helped Kyle Busch this time, who popped back up to challenge Harvick for second before yet another yellow came out on lap 389 (involving Hornish for the second consecutive time – he had hit the inside wall on the back straight.)

With ten laps to run, deciding whether to pit or not was a critical moment. Montoya came in for four tyres after complaining the car was loose, as did Denny Hamlin, but the leaders all stayed out – Gordon taking the lead at the restart with Busch having just nipped Harvick for second place in that last run as the flags came out. Busch wa finding the previously struggling 18 car able to perform much better for these short staccato sprints between cautions, and was aided by the prescient decision to go for four tyres during his final stop while Gordon and Harvick were struggling with their own decisions to stay out on worn tyres.

Both Gordon and Busch got great restarts, but it was Busch on the outside line who managed to press home the tyre advantage and return to the lead for the first time in almost 160 laps. But as the trusim says, the only lap it really matters to lead is the last one – and that’s exactly what Kyle managed to do. Victory was a perfect 25th birthday present from Kyle Busch to himself for Sunday, and the first Sprint Cup victory for Kyle with new crew chief Dave Rogers, and his first this season.

Jimmie Johnson meanwhile ended up with an ignominious finish, crossing the line out of control after making contact with Clint Bowyer as they fought over 10th place. As a result, Johnson loses the lead of the drivers’ championship by 10pts to Kevin Harvick.

Race results

Pos  Driver                Car        Laps
 1.  Kyle Busch            Toyota      400
 2.  Jeff Gordon           Chevrolet   400
 3.  Kevin Harvick         Chevrolet   400
 4.  Jeff Burton           Chevrolet   400
 5.  Carl Edwards          Ford        400
 6.  Juan Montoya          Chevrolet   400
 7.  Martin Truex Jr       Toyota      400
 8.  Ryan Newman           Chevrolet   400
 9.  Marcos Ambrose        Toyota      400
10.  Jimmie Johnson        Chevrolet   400
11.  Denny Hamlin          Toyota      400
12.  Clint Bowyer          Chevrolet   400
13.  Matt Kenseth          Ford        400
14.  Brad Keselowski       Dodge       400
15.  David Reutimann       Toyota      400
16.  Joey Logano           Toyota      400
17.  A.J. Allmendinger     Ford        400
18.  Kurt Busch            Dodge       400
19.  Jamie McMurray        Chevrolet   399
20.  Brian Vickers         Toyota      399
21.  Kasey Kahne           Ford        399
22.  Greg Biffle           Ford        399
23.  Tony Stewart          Chevrolet   399
24.  David Ragan           Ford        399
25.  Mark Martin           Chevrolet   399
26.  Casey Mears           Chevrolet   399
27.  Paul Menard           Ford        398
28.  Robby Gordon          Toyota      398
29.  David Stremme         Ford        398
30.  Regan Smith           Chevrolet   398
31.  David Gilliland       Ford        398
32.  Dale Earnhardt Jr     Chevrolet   397
33.  Bobby Labonte         Chevrolet   397
34.  Travis Kvapil         Ford        396
35.  Scott Speed           Toyota      393
36.  Sam Hornish Jr        Dodge       387
37.  Kevin Conway          Ford        387
38.  Elliott Sadler        Ford        385
39.  Terry Cook            Dodge        92
40.  Mike Bliss            Chevrolet    86
41.  Reed Sorenson         Toyota       80
42.  Tony Raines           Toyota       69
43.  Joe Nemechek          Toyota       42

Sprint Cup standings

 	 	 	 	 	 	 	
Pos +/-  DRIVER                 POINTS  BEHIND  ST  P  W  T5  T10
1   +1   Kevin Harvick          1467    Leader  10  0  1  4   7
2   -1   Jimmie Johnson         1457    -10     10  0  3  5   7
3   +2   Kyle Busch             1358    -109    10  1  1  2   5
4   --   Matt Kenseth           1348    -119    10  0  0  3   6
5   -2   Greg Biffle            1334    -133    10  0  0  2   7
6   +4   Jeff Gordon            1305    -162    10  0  0  4   4
7   +2   Denny Hamlin           1268    -199    10  0  2  3   3
8   -1   Kurt Busch             1255    -212    10  1  1  3   5
9   +3   Jeff Burton            1247    -220    10  0  0  2   3
10  -4   Mark Martin            1242    -225    10  1  0  4   5
11  +2   Carl Edwards           1227    -240    10  0  0  1   5
12  -1   Clint Bowyer           1213    -254    10  0  0  1   6
13  -5   Dale Earnhardt Jr.     1209    -258    10  1  0  1   3
14  +1   Martin Truex Jr.       1196    -271    10  0  0  1   4
15  -1   Tony Stewart           1160    -307    10  1  0  1   3
16  +2   Ryan Newman            1142    -325    10  0  1  2   3
17  -1   Joey Logano            1116    -351    10  1  0  2   4
18  +2   Juan Montoya           1109    -358    10  0  0  3   5
19  -2   Jamie McMurray         1104    -363    10  1  1  2   3
20  -1   Paul Menard            1044    -423    10  0  0  1   1
21  +3   A.J. Allmendinger      1029    -438    10  1  0  0   1
22  +1   Kasey Kahne            1026    -441    10  0  0  2   3
23  -1   David Ragan            1021    -446    10  0  0  0   1
24  +1   Brian Vickers          1019    -448    10  0  0  0   2
25  -4   Scott Speed            1007    -460    10  0  0  0   1
26  --   Brad Keselowski        974     -493    10  0  0  0   0
27  --   David Reutimann        967     -500    10  0  0  1   1
28  +2   Marcos Ambrose         925     -542    10  0  0  0   1
29  -1   Sam Hornish Jr.        882     -585    10  0  0  0   0
30  -1   Elliott Sadler         871     -596    10  0  0  0   0
31  --   Bobby Labonte          838     -629    10  0  0  0   0
32  --   Travis Kvapil          824     -643    10  0  0  0   0
33  --   Regan Smith            807     -660    10  0  0  0   0
34  --   Robby Gordon           800     -667    10  0  0  0   0
35  --   David Gilliland        671     -796    8   0  0  0   0
36  --   Kevin Conway*          615     -852    9   0  0  0   0
37  --   Mike Bliss             578     -889    8   0  0  0   1
38  --   Max Papis              423     -1044   8   0  0  0   0
39  --   Joe Nemechek           414     -1053   10  0  0  0   0
40  --   Dave Blaney            345     -1122   8   0  0  0   0
41  +3   David Stremme          301     -1166   4   0  0  0   0
42  -1   Michael McDowell       293     -1174   7   0  0  0   0
43  -1   Bill Elliott           290     -1177   3   0  0  0   0
44  -1   Boris Said             252     -1215   4   0  0  0   0
45  --   Michael Waltrip        200     -1267   3   0  0  0   0
46  +2   Terry Cook*            164     -1303   3   0  0  0   0
47  +4   Casey Mears            158     -1309   2   0  0  0   0
48  -2   Robert Richardson Jr.  155     -1312   2   0  0  0   0
49  -2   Aric Almirola          154     -1313   4   0  0  0   0
50  +3   Reed Sorenson          86      -1381   2   0  0  0   0
51  -2   Johnny Sauter          80      -1387   2   0  0  0   0
52  -2   Scott Riggs            79      -1388   1   0  0  0   0
53  -1   John Andretti          49      -1418   1   0  0  0   0
54  --   Tony Raines            37      -1430   1   0  0  0   0
55  -1   Todd Bodine            0       -1467   0   0  0  0   0
56  -1   Brandon Ash            0       -1467   0   0  0  0   0
57  -1   Derrike Cope           0       -1467   0   0  0  0   0
58  -1   Mike Wallace           0       -1467   0   0  0  0   0
59  -1   Norm Benning           0       -1467   0   0  0  0   0
60  -1   Jeff Fuller            0       -1467   0   0  0  0   0
* denotes rookie
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