Kyle Busch held off a late charge from reigning champion Jimmie Johnson to make history as the winner of Saturday night's inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver started from pole position, led the most laps but had to defend his lead on the final two-lap sprint against Johnson. Although the Hendrick driver was initially able to keep the pressure on, he then came under attack from a charging David Reutimann (Michael Waltrip Racing), allowing Busch to pull ahead to his third win of the season.
Busch had also won Thursday's Truck Series race, which meant Saturday's victory places him only one shy of his 100th NASCAR win.
"This is right up there with the best of them. I haven't won the big ones but this is as good as it gets, man. The way we won was awesome," said Busch, who has jumped up to the top of the standings and has all but locked up a place in this year's Chase.
Track position and running in clean air proved crucial on the bumpy Kentucky asphalt, and although Busch was ahead of the field for longer than his rivals, Penske's Brad Keselowski proved to be a threat after he took the lead for the first time on lap 142 having stayed out during the second caution of the day.
Keselowski, winner of Saturday's Nationwide Series race, led 79 laps but lost a couple of seconds at his final planned stop for fuel under green with 27 laps remaining. That probably cost him the chance to put up a tougher fight for victory in the end, eventually crossing the finish line in seventh.
"At the end, the restarts are just a crapshoot," said Keselowski. "If you get the bottom lane, you're going backwards. I kept getting in an odd position and just kept getting on the bottom lane. Every restart just kept playing against us. A great effort by this race team and that makes me proud. We led laps and were competitive all night."
His team-mate Kurt Busch also led a good portion of the race but finished only ninth in the end.
Reutimann got a lucky break when the fifth caution of the day waved as everyone but him had completed their final scheduled stops for fuel. When Dale Earnhardt Jr blew a left-front tire after stopping for fuel, only seven cars were on the lead lap, which meant the Michael Waltrip Racing driver was able to stop under caution and drop only a handful of spots.
Johnson was a top-five contender for most of the evening and his second place in the end allowed him to move up a spot in the points to fifth place. Stewart Haas' Ryan Newman recovered from being a lap down to finish fourth behind Johnson after a bold final restart.
Roush Fenway's Carl Edwards rounded out the top five ahead of his team-mate Matt Kenseth, while last week's Daytona winner David Ragan continued to move up in the standings with an eighth place finish.
Tony Stewart was a top five contender but in the end he had to make do with 12th while similarly Earnhardt Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya was only 15th after being sent to the rear of the field for the penultimate restart while he was running seventh, following a penalty for speeding in the pits. The Colombian had been a contender for a solid finish before that.
Former points leader Kevin Harvick struggled to a 16th place finish and dropped down to third in the standings.
The inaugural Cup event at Kentucky proved a success in terms of attendance as numbers reportedly exceeded the 106,000 grandstand capacity, although such crowds made for massive traffic issues both before and after the event, with some fans even being unable to reach the track.
Results - 267 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota 2h55m00.000s
2. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 0.179s
3. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 0.233s
4. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 0.887s
5. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 1.158s
6. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 1.398s
7. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 1.506s
8. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 1.544s
9. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 1.576s
10. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 1.971s
11. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 1.972s
12. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 2.270s
13. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota + 2.374s
14. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 2.702s
15. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2.737s
16. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 2.852s
17. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 3.069s
18. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 3.380s
19. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 3.496s
20. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 3.544s
21. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 3.682s
22. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 3.962s
23. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet + 6.157s
24. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap
25. Casey Mears Germain Toyota + 1 lap
26. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 1 lap
27. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 2 laps
28. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 2 laps
29. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford + 2 laps
30. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 2 laps
31. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 3 laps
32. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet + 3 laps
33. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 3 laps
34. Mike Bliss FAS Lane Ford + 3 laps
Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet 259 laps
Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 198 laps
Scott Wimmer Gordon Dodge 90 laps
Tony Raines Front Row Ford 38 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 37 laps
JJ Yeley Whitney Chevrolet 35 laps
Michael McDowell HP Toyota 32 laps
Scott Riggs Whitney Chevrolet 28 laps
Mike Skinner Germain Toyota 17 laps