Kurt Busch wins a wild one at Infineon
by Matt Taliaferro
The Infineon Raceway’s annual NASCAR Sprint Cup date has seen its share of aggression the last few seasons. And Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 was no different, with a number of flared tempers, paybacks and plenty of bent sheet metal. So how does one go about winning at the Sonoma, Ca. road course? Stay in front of the fray.
That’s exactly what Kurt Busch did, leading a race-high 76 of 110 laps en route to his first Sprint Cup Series road course win and his first victory of the season.
“We had to conserve our rear tires,” Busch said of his team’s strategy to make only two pit stops when many others made three. “Once we had enough fuel mileage to make it, I started to pick up my pace.
“(The car) allowed me to do everything at an ‘A’ level. There's times when you can be A-plus on forward drive off or on your gear ratios for saving mileage, then you would have to save on overall speed for your speed ratios. Then you have the turn left, turn right. My car gave me the ability to do all areas very well.”
A 19-lap green-flag run to conclude the race enabled Busch to pull away from the field and beat Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer and Marcos Ambrose to the finish by 2.685 seconds on the 1.99-mile, 12-turn course. And although the final dash to checkers was caution-free, the event was marred by a series of incidents on the winding layout.
The first major scrap occurred in the tight, hairpin Turn 11 when Tony Stewart turned Brian Vickers, which collected a number of cars. Though none appeared seriously damaged, Dale Earnhardt Jr. got the worst of it, as his contact with a sideways Vickers knocked a hole in the radiator, eventually causing the engine of his No. 88 Chevy to expire.
Vickers enacted revenge late in the race, when he used his injured vehicle to dump Stewart in the same turn on lap 88, which brought out the final caution.
“I probably had it coming, because I dumped him earlier,” Stewart said. “But I dumped him because he was blocking, so if anyone wants to block all year that’s what I’m going to keep doing.”
“(Tony) may not have noticed, but the 18 (Kyle Busch) was off the racetrack,” Vickers said of Stewart’s claim of blocking. “I was trying to avoid the 18 and I was on the inside of the car in front of me, so Tony was the least of my concern. But that’s what he felt it was and he sowed his oats and he reaped them.”
Juan Montoya had run-ins with a few drivers throughout the day, most notably Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski, while attempting a late-race charge to the front with fresh tires.
“They just don’t give me any room,” Montoya said. “It’s hard when people don’t know how to race on road courses and they think they do.”
Kahne didn’t share Montoya’s assessment, saying, “Montoya just drove through me. Last year when his cars were really good and (his teammate) Jamie McMurray was the man (winning three races), Juan still couldn’t win a race. It shows what he can do in NASCAR anyways.”
After the Kahne incident, Montoya attempted to get by Keselowski. However, when it got physical, Keselowski did not wait to be the victim.
“The body language of Juan’s car said he was going to wreck me,” Keselowski said. “I just made sure that didn’t happen.”
As a result of all the contact, Kahne was relegated to a 20th-place finish, while Montoya was 22nd. Keselowski survived to post a solid 10th-place showing.
Edwards increased his championship lead to 25 over seventh-place finisher Kevin Harvick. Jimmie Johnson sits third, 33 points back, and one point ahead of Kurt Busch. Earnhardt suffered the worst points-hit, falling from third to seventh, 65 points out, after finishing 41st with the blown engine.