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Kyle Busch Victorious at Bristol ... Again
by Matt Taliaferro
Domination at the tough Bristol bullring in East Tennessee doesn’t come often, but when it does, it tends to run in streaks. Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch have gone on rolls of varying lengths over the last 35 years at the world’s fastest half-mile, and Kyle Busch is in the midst of his own.
Busch scored his fourth Cup win in the last five visits to Bristol on Sunday, leading 153 laps and pulling away from pole-sitter Carl Edwards and defending race-winner Jimmie Johnson down the stretch in the Jeff Byrd 500. But Busch was the first to admit that it wasn’t all about the drivers’ brilliance, rather, fast pit work that gave his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota the lead late in the race.
“Our guys on that last pit stop won this race coming out of the pits first,” Busch said of the stop with 71 laps remaining. “I don’t know if I could have gotten by Carl — Carl was good. Our car was definitely better on the longer run.”
Jimmie Johnson led to that point, with Busch content ton run second. However, when the field hit pit road under caution, crew chief Dave Rogers made the call for two tires, allowing Busch to beat Edwards, Greg Biffle and Johnson onto the track for the restart. The young Las Vegas native never looked back from there, fending off multiple challenges from Edwards over three separate restarts before eventually sprinting away to a .946-second victory.
When Edwards was asked what he could have done different, he referenced his dust-up with Busch three weeks ago in Phoenix, saying, “It’s simple: I should have hit him harder (on the final restart). He’s still got one coming from Phoenix, but it was too far from the end to start racing like that. I really thought I could get by him clean, but then his car took off and mine was loose. I still got one (payback) in my pocket.”
Johnson, who earned his first career Bristol win in this race last season, was forced to settle for third despite leading a race-high 164 laps.
“Oddly enough, clean air is important here,” Johnson said. “It makes a big difference. I knew the 18 and I were relatively equal and whoever had clean air could get a little gap … and that was kind of it. It came down to that last pit stop; we didn’t get off pit road first and that’s really where the race was gone at that point.”
Matt Kenseth and Paul Menard rounded out the top 5. For Menard, it was his best Bristol performance, and only his second career top-5 showing in the Cup Series with a car that was later revealed to be down a cylinder.
“I had a fast racecar all weekend,” Menard, in his first year with a new fourth team at Richard Childress Racing, said. “What’s cool is we’ve been to four different race tracks and had strong runs at all four. It’s a testament to Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) and everybody at RCR. There’s a lot of talent there and Slugger has built a helluva race team and we’re having a lot of fun right now.”
Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman comprised the rest of the top 10.
Through four races in the 2011 season, Kurt Busch clings to a one-point lead over Edwards in the point standings, followed by Tony Stewart, Newman and Menard.