Kyle Busch rounded out a perfect weekend with victory in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol, following a dominant outing on Saturday in the Nationwide Series. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was a contender all day and led early on while most were still trying to figure out how to get the best of the new right-side tire specification, following NASCAR's decision to change the tire compound due to excessive wear issues during Friday's practice session.
However it was Busch's final stop during the seventh caution of the day that gave him the track position that he held all the way to the checkered flag in order to take his fourth Bristol victory in his last five outings on the high banks of the half-mile oval.
Busch first led the race from laps 84 to 91, then again from laps 270 to 341, and following his final stop he emerged ahead of polesitter Carl Edwards and reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, who had been leading up to that point, and looked in control at the front of the field.
Once the green flag waved again, Edwards tried to challenge Busch but three further cautions followed one after another in a matter of a few laps, preventing his attack from gaining any momentum. With 38 laps remaining the green waved for the final time after the 10th caution of the day and Edwards tried to run side by side with Busch. He just managed to do so but the former Nationwide champion held on to the outside lane and after a few laps he was ahead once again.
From behind Johnson put the pressure on Edwards after that, allowing Busch to drive away to his 20th career win in Cup and his fourth out of 10 races contested in NASCAR series this year.
"Our guys on that last pit stop won this race coming out of the pits first," said Busch "I don't know if I could have got by Carl... Carl was good. Our car was definitely better on the longer run. We kind of stretched it out a little bit there. I was worried that Jimmie might get by him and come frazzle me for a little while. I felt good about these guys and what they did."
Edwards led the race early on but did not manage to translate his qualifying pace into another race win. His final stop also allowed him to move up in the order, being narrowly beaten to the timing line by Busch. Edwards believes he should have raced his rival harder in the end, but admitted he could not keep up with Busch's pace.
"I thought I could get to him at the end and rough him up a little bit but and maybe get by him, but his car took off," Edwards said. "I just told them I should have hit him harder when I got to his rear bumper the first time, but we were racing really hard. His car was better there at the end. I didn't know how fast Jimmie was, so I thought, 'Man, if we start roughing each other up, it might end up worse for us.' But it was a good race."
Johnson led the most laps during the day and despite lamenting a slow final stop which probably cost him a first win of the season, he still backed his pit crew – which has new members for this year, following a troubled end of 2010 on pit road.
"The race off pit road is what got us," said Johnson. "Track position was everything. Really, [Kyle Busch] and I didn't seem much off [Edwards] all day. We were pretty equal on pace. So whoever had clean air was going to be in control. We just didn't get off pit road in front of everybody. Had great pit stops all day long, just a little off there at the end."
Matt Kenseth finished fourth behind Johnson, while Richard Childress' Paul Menard continued to impress with a strong start to his season, finishing fifth despite his engine being down a cylinder during the second half of the race.
Kevin Harvick managed a sixth place in the end despite spinning his Richard Childress Chevrolet with 63 laps to go after being tapped from behind while trying to avoid hitting the slowing Red Bull Toyota of Kasey Kahne ahead of him.
Penske's Kurt Busch was seventh and took over the points lead from Tony Stewart, while Roush Fenway's Greg Biffle, Kahne and Stewart Haas' Ryan Newman rounded out the top 10.
The biggest loser at the front of the standings was Earnhardt Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya, who did a remarkable recovery from 36th on the grid up to the top 10 until a loose wheel on a pit stop forced him to a green-flag stop which put him two laps down.
Former points leader Stewart finished 19th and dropped down to third in the standings.
Results - 500 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota 2h54m59.000s
2. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 0.946s
3. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 1.389s
4. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 4.193s
5. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 4.703s
6. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 4.789s
7. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 4.810s
8. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 5.902s
9. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota + 6.022s
10. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 6.611s
11. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 6.829s
12. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 7.439s
13. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 7.451s
14. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 8.003s
15. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 9.009s
16. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 9.595s
17. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 10.461s
18. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 10.993s
19. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 14.518s
20. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 2 laps
21. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2 laps
22. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 2 laps
23. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 3 laps
24. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 3 laps
25. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 3 laps
26. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford + 4 laps
27. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 5 laps
28. Tony Raines Front Row Ford + 6 laps
29. Bill Elliott Phoenix Chevrolet + 7 laps
30. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 7 laps
31. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 7 laps
32. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet + 9 laps
33. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 12 laps
34. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 18 laps
Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet 456 laps
Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota 441 laps*
Casey Mears Germain Toyota 427 laps*
Dennis Setzer K-Automotive Dodge 336 laps
Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge 127 laps*
JJ Yeley Whitney Chevrolet 97 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 72 laps
Landon Cassill Germain Toyota 36 laps
Michael McDowell HP Toyota 35 laps
* Running again at chequered flag