Kurt Busch fended off Matt Kenseth and Juan Pablo Montoya to claim his first win of the season in the Kobalt Tools 500 at Atlanta.
The Penske Dodge driver, along with Richard Petty's Kasey Kahne, were dominant throughout the race, alternating the lead between them for most of the afternoon. However, Busch's pit crew was key in putting him up front when it counted, while Kahne's stops were not as quick – and neither was his pace on short runs.
This boosted Busch, who reclaimed the lead from Kahne following four-tire stops from the leaders under the eighth caution of the day with 34 laps to go. As the green flag waved, Earnhardt Ganassi's Montoya emerged as the main challenger to Busch and, after moving up to second, he continuously closed on the leading No. 2 Dodge.
The Colombian seemed set to arrive on the rear bumper of Busch for a thrilling final two laps, but the yellow flag brought that to an end as Brad Keselowski's car flipped over on the front stretch following contact with Carl Edwards, as the Roush Fenway racer apparently got payback from a previous incident with the Penske driver. Keselowski came out unscathed from his battered car, while Edwards was parked by NASCAR and called to give his account of the incident to officials.
“He cut down on me on a restart, and I lifted (off the accelerator), and I couldn't lift fast enough for him,” Keselowski said. “I lifted for him to let him in, but I was there. I don't know what more you could do.
“I apologized to him, but there's nothing I could do in that situation, and to come back and just intentionally wreck someone – that's not cool. It could have killed somebody in the grandstands. I know that it's a little ironic that it's got me saying that, but at least I didn't do it intentionally when it happened.
“It's going to be interesting to see how NASCAR reacts to it. They have the ball. If they're going to allow people to intentionally wreck each other at tracks this fast, we will hurt someone, either in the cars or in the grandstand.”
“Brad knows the deal between him and I,” said Edwards, who returned to the track after losing 150 laps in the garage. “The scary part was that his car went airborne, which was not at all what I expected.
“At the end of the day, we come out to race, and people got to have respect for one another. I have a lot of respect for people's safety, and I wish that wouldn't have gone like it did, but I'm glad he's OK. We'll just go on and race some more, and maybe him and I won't have any more incidents together—that'd be the best thing.”
The race resumed with a first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish that was hampered by an incident triggered by contact between Jamie McMurray and Clint Bowyer, with at least another five cars getting caught up in the wreckage, right before the white flag was about to wave for the leaders.
Busch and Montoya had already charged back up front from fourth and fifth on the restart, after three other cars had jumped them in the final stop by taking two new tires only.
On the final restart, Montoya seemed to spin his tires under power, allowing Busch to get the jump on him. The Colombian eventually dropped back to fourth place while Busch had to watch out for Roush Fenway's Kenseth, who followed him across the finish line in the end.
Montoya was third ahead of Kahne, who led the most laps, while Paul Menard's two-tire gamble in the end paid dividends as he held on to fifth at the flag, followed by his teammate, AJ Allmendinger, as three RPM cars finished in the top six.
Busch claimed the 21st victory of his career and his first with crew chief Steve Addington, who joined Penske Racing during the off-season after guiding Busch's brother, Kyle, to 12 victories in 2008 and 2009 with Joe Gibbs Racing.
“With Steve Addington, all of his new ideas, I never knew how we could mesh them together and how soon we were able to do it,” Busch said. “Even on those restarts at the end, I just felt like we had the car to beat.”
Points leader Kevin Harvick struggled for the first half of the race but the right setup changes and strategy calls allowed him to score his fourth top-10 finish in as many races this year, despite his Richard Childress Racing squad not looking anywhere near as strong as in the past three weeks.
Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson ran a solid race but missed his mark in one of his final stops and then made contact with Stewart-Haas' Ryan Newman, damaging the right-front fender of his car and causing an extra stop for repairs near the end. Despite that, he was the best among the Hendrick Motorsports cars in 12th as all his teammates suffered with tire-related issues.
Pos Driver Car Laps
1. Kurt Busch Dodge 341
2. Matt Kenseth Ford 341
3. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 341
4. Kasey Kahne Ford 341
5. Paul Menard Ford 341
6. AJ Allmendinger Ford 341
7. Brian Vickers Toyota 341
8. Greg Biffle Ford 341
9. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 341
10. Scott Speed Toyota 341
11. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 341
12. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 341
13. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 341
14. Regan Smith Chevrolet 341
15. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 341
16. Bill Elliott Ford 341
17. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 341
18. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 341
19. Elliott Sadler Ford 341
20. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 341
21. Denny Hamlin Toyota 341
22. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 341
23. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 341
24. Mike Bliss Chevrolet 341
25. Kyle Busch Toyota 341
26. David Gilliland Ford 341
27. Martin Truex Jr Toyota 341
28. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 340
29. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 340
30. Travis Kvapil Ford 339
31. Kevin Conway Ford 334
32. Boris Said Ford 333
33. Mark Martin Chevrolet 331
34. Max Papis Toyota 329
35. Joey Logano Toyota 323
36. Brad Keselowski Dodge 322
37. David Ragan Ford 211
38. Joe Nemechek Toyota 175
39. Carl Edwards Ford 170
40. David Reutimann Toyota 167
41. Dave Blaney Toyota 48
42. Michael McDowell Toyota 37
43. Robby Gordon Toyota 3