Kyle Busch made history by becoming the first driver to win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series on the same weekend, after claiming his third Cup victory of the season on Saturday night at Bristol.
The 25-year-old produced another display of his natural talent this week, first winning while driving for his own team in the Truck series on Wednesday, before taking his 10th win of the year in NASCAR's second-tier series on Friday night, amid controversy due to contact with series leader Brad Keselowski while fighting for victory on the closing laps.
On Saturday night the odds did not look to be in his favor to win for a third time in Cup after qualifying only 19th, and not looking among the fastest in practice either. However he steadily climbed in the order until reaching polesitter Jimmie Johnson, who dominated during the first 171 laps of the race's 500.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver looked to be the main obstacle between Busch and a weekend triple, but it did not take long for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to claim the lead by taking advantage of lapped traffic. However he would lose it back to Johnson as the leaders pitted under the fourth caution period of the race, although only temporarily.
Busch attacked on the restart and got back ahead on the outside of Johnson and looked dominant up front from then on. But as the race went into its longest green-flag period, Earnhardt Ganassi's Jamie McMurray emerged as a contender for victory, actually passing the No. 18 Toyota of Busch for the lead with 111 laps remaining.
Then 11 laps later, when McMurray drove onto pit road for his final stop of the night, Busch decided to follow the leader into the pits, anticipating his final stop for fuel and tire s. As McMurray slowed down, Busch left it as late as his talent allowed him to slow his car down to the pit road speed limit, outbraking and passing the No. 1 Chevy in the process.
A quick stop allowed Busch to open the gap to McMurray but as the final stops cycled out, David Reutimann found himself in the lead of the race. It perhaps took longer than Busch expected for him to dispose of the Michael Waltrip Racing driver, until he eventually got past the No. 00 Toyota by getting him loose out of Turn 2.
For the last 72 laps Busch pulled away from his pursuers and despite fear of a tire losing air or a suspension part about to give up in the final laps, "Rowdy" went on to claim his third Cup victory of the season and his 16th of the year, counting those in the Nationwide and Truck series, where he runs part-time.
"Last year we won the Truck race and were leading the Nationwide race and we got crashed out, and then we ended up winning the Cup race, so this is probably a year delayed," said Busch. "Coming to Bristol you could say, 'Yeah, well, we're supposed to run well here.' But still, it's cool to be able to put it all together in a complete weekend, with the truck, with the Nationwide car and with the Cup car."
Reutimann took an impressive second in the end after starting the weekend ill due to suspected food poisoning. Aric Almirola had to drive his car in practice as he was feeling unwell, but he eventually bounced back to be a contender for victory, holding off McMurray to the flag.
"I enjoyed racing the guys up front, Jamie and Kyle and those guys," said an exhausted Reutimann. "I feel really, really good about the finish, but I'm not feeling so hot right now, so I'm ready to go to sleep at some point. Maybe now."
McMurray's third place allowed him to jump to 13th in the standings with just two races to go before the Chase, although he is still 100 points away from Richard Childress' Clint Bowyer, who finished the race fourth behind him, recovering from an early penalty for speeding on pit road. Kasey Kahne rebounded from a similar penalty plus a deflating tire to take fifth ahead of Stewart Haas' Ryan Newman and Earnhardt Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya.
The Colombian ran a solid race to seventh after being involved in an incident with early race leader Johnson on lap 262. Montoya was on the outside of the reigning champion and his left front made contact with Johnson's right rear while fighting for second place. The No. 48 Chevy ended up spinning and hitting the wall hard enough to be forced into the garage for lengthy repairs.
"We were on the straightaway and everything was fine and then around I went," said Johnson. "I don't think it was something intentional and I don't think he was trying to dump me but I will just have to look at the video and see. I really felt like I left him the room."
Denny Hamlin also had a tough night due to a broken suspension part, which kept him in the garage for a number of laps, while points leader Kevin Harvick struggled for most of the night and was 14th in the end.
With only two race left before the Chase, Hendrick Motorsports' Jeff Gordon is now mathematically locked into the championship playoff series with Harvick, while the top 12 in the standings look almost set as only very good results for McMurray, Mark Martin and Newman and poor ones for Bowyer at Atlanta or Richmond would cause a change in the 12th position.
Pos Driver Car Laps
1. Kyle Busch Toyota 500
2. David Reutimann Toyota 500
3. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 500
4. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 500
5. Kasey Kahne Ford 500
6. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 500
7. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 500
8. Greg Biffle Ford 500
9. Kurt Busch Dodge 500
10. Matt Kenseth Ford 500
11. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 500
12. Carl Edwards Ford 500
13. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 500
14. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 500
15. Reed Sorenson Toyota 499
16. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 499
17. Martin Truex Jr Toyota 499
18. Joey Logano Toyota 499
19. Brad Keselowski Dodge 499
20. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 499
21. Paul Menard Ford 499
22. Travis Kvapil Ford 498
23. Mark Martin Chevrolet 498
24. Jeff Green Ford 497
25. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 497
26. David Gilliland Ford 495
27. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 494
28. Tony Raines Ford 492
29. Elliott Sadler Ford 491
30. Regan Smith Chevrolet 489
31. AJ Allmendinger Ford 488
32. David Ragan Ford 486
33. Scott Speed Toyota 486
34. Denny Hamlin Toyota 473
35. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 415
36. Kevin Conway Toyota 212
37. Landon Cassill Chevrolet 129
38. Bobby Labonte Chevrolet 118
39. Casey Mears Toyota 58
40. Robby Gordon Toyota 50
41. Todd Bodine Toyota 47
42. Scott Riggs Toyota 32
43. Michael McDowell Toyota 16