Kyle Busch claimed his second NASCAR Sprint Cup race victory of the season by beating his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin on Saturday night at Richmond.
Busch got himself an early birthday present as he celebrates his 26th on Monday, categorically beating Hamlin while increasing his team's domination at the 0.75-mile track, where all Cup races over the past five races have been won by either Hamlin or Busch.
Hamlin looked strong in the early stages, taking the lead for the first time on lap 73 having been 11th on the starting grid. A lengthy first stop caused him to lose out to Busch, who spent the next 110 consecutive laps at the front of the field.
Although others would take turns in the lead while different fuel and tyre strategies came into play, once the last stops were out of the way, it was Busch who attacked following the final caution of the day, caused by a multi-car incident that involved Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer, among others.
From third on what turned out to be the last restart, Busch took just four laps to make the most of his speed on cold tires, passing Jeff Burton to grab a lead that he kept all the way to the checkered flag.
Fuel calculations suggested he was marginal on mileage, but having lost to Hamlin on Thursday during his teammate's Late Model charity race due to fuel-related issues, Busch was not going to let the most important win of the weekend slip through his fingers.
"This is pretty awesome," said Busch, whose car had to be pushed to Victory Lane as it ran out of fuel following the race. "We had a really good car, and we knew that if we could play through traffic a little bit better than the 11 [Hamlin] that we had a shot at the win, and we did that tonight.
"I learned from Denny Hamlin last fall [autumn] and I'm not going to say what I learned, but he might know. We did a good job of doing what we needed to do early in the run, and once we got out and had to go through traffic, the traffic kind of fell our way, so we were able to pick our way through there."
Hamlin was hoping to make it three out of three this weekend at Richmond after winning the Denny Hamlin Short Track Challenge on Thursday night and the Nationwide Series race on Friday. He was running the same strategy as Busch in the closing stages, but this did not allow him to attack his teammate in the end.
"We knew pretty early on, [Busch] was going to be tough," said Hamlin after his best finish of the year thus far. "It's tough when you share notebooks. You know those guys have got exactly what you got. Every trick in the book on short tracks, those guys have it. Kyle has the talent. We knew they were going to be tough to beat. They're really good here in the spring race anyway.
"It's all we had. My plan was to really conserve the first part of the last run and let him go out there and run. I was going to just kind of sit back and wait and save my tyres. Just when I tried to make a run, I didn't have the grip I needed to close in enough."
Kasey Kahne made it a top-three sweep for Toyota, the Red Bull Racing driver looking especially strong in the early going where he led for 29 laps. The recent surgery to his right knee posed no trouble as he also got his best result of the year, his first top five and best finish since joining the team at the end of last season.
"My knee feels fine," said Kahne. "It's actually a little bit tight, a bit swelled up maybe. But other than that, it feels fine. I never thought about it once throughout the race. So it was more about the car. So if you're not thinking about it, it's obviously not hurting."
Roush Fenway Racing's David Ragan and Carl Edwards - who continues to lead the standings - rounded out the top five, ahead of a recovered Bowyer, who was able to survive the last incident, ignited by contact between him and Kenseth with 99 laps remaining.
Richard Petty's AJ Allmendinger was seventh, followed by reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, who was a lap down early on but was still able to break into the top 10 when it counted.
Tony Stewart, also struggling in the early stages, finished ninth while Kevin Harvick had a solid night to finish 10th.
Polesitter Juan Pablo Montoya led the first 25 laps but then struggled with excessive wear on his right front, dropping down the order while still racing well inside the top 10 until on lap 108 the Earnhardt Ganassi driver made contact with Ryan Newman.
Montoya's car suffered massive damage to the right rear, which prevented him from contending for a good finish. However, later on lap 238 the caution waved again for an incident between him and Newman as Montoya seemed to retaliate against the Stewart Haas racer for their previous run-in.
Newman suggested over the radio that he would confront Montoya following the race, but the Colombian avoided a post-race altercation.
Results - 400 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota 400 laps
2. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 1.805s
3. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota + 11.066s
4. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 11.371s
5. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 16.379s
6. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 19.716s
7. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 21.771s
8. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 22.715s
9. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 23.416s
10. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 1 lap
11. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap
12. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap
13. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 1 lap
14. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap
15. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap
16. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap
17. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 1 lap
18. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap
19. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 2 laps
20. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 2 laps
21. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 2 laps
22. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 3 laps
23. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 3 laps
24. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 3 laps
25. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 3 laps
26. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet + 3 laps
27. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 3 laps
28. Casey Mears Germain Toyota + 4 laps
29. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 5 laps
30. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford + 5 laps
31. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 5 laps
32. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 6 laps
33. Tony Raines Front Row Ford + 7 laps
34. David Stremme Inception Chevrolet + 7 laps
35. Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge + 7 laps
36. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 12 laps
37. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 15 laps
38. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet + 40 laps
39. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 100 laps
Michael McDowell HP Toyota 134 laps
Landon Cassill Germain Toyota 61 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 40 laps
JJ Yeley Whitney Chevrolet 38 laps