Kurt Busch told his Stewart-Haas Racing crew on the radio early in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway Sunday that they were done for the day. After the checkered flag however Busch was in tears as he thanked his crew and celebrated his first NASCAR Sprint Cup series win in 84 races dating back to June 2011.
Busch had made contact in the pits with Brad Keselowski raising the ire of the 2012 champion during a caution on lap 40. Shortly after Busch told his crew they were done for the day. He and Keselowski made contact on the track later in the day, but Busch overcame his issues, took the lead from Jimmie Johnson with 17 laps to go and went on to score his 25th career win.
“This is an unbelievable feeling, to get back to victory lane after this tour that I've been on, to find this opportunity with Stewart-Haas, and to win, it means the world to me,” Busch said. “That's what I've always driven for was just going for the Ws and you let the rough edges drag on the other side. You get compared to guys that are sponsor dreams and they've won one or two races, and now to hear that I have 25 wins and to have a championship and to hoist a trophy at a track that I would draw a line through this track every time I'd show up not ever having a shot to win because it was one of my worst tracks. So it shows what teamwork is all about. That's what I want everybody to take away from today is teamwork. What better way to win than using that old cliché, can't beat 'em, join 'em.”
For the fifth time at Martinsville Johnson led the most laps 296 of 500, but unlike the previous four times, failed to win, settling for second.
“Man, we were so on edge slipping and sliding,” Johnson said. “Honestly the cars were so on top of the track and slipping and sliding you would go out there and push one around with your hand. I think the lack of security in our own car kept us from feeling more racy and putting a bumper to someone or really getting inside someone aggressively. From the minute I would hit the brakes and go into the turn I was turning right and just drifting in there the whole time.”
After winning his first Sprint Cup pole at Martinsville Kurt’s younger brother Kyle led to the green. Thanks to rain and some snow flurries earlier in the morning, NASCAR called a competition caution after 40 laps.
Busch led to the green but the field failed to make a lap though before the first caution came out after Parker Kligerman was spun after the field bunched up. Several drivers suffered minor damage to the rear bumper, including Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne, and Austin Dillon. Those drivers pitted to fix the damage. The restart came on lap 11; Busch led, Johnson took over second, Matt Kenseth was third. Three laps later Kenseth got past Johnson for second.
“I started to check up and I just barely got in the back of him,” Keselowski said. “Kurt (Busch) just accelerated and drove through us, absolutely drove through us. I tell you what, I’m about tired of his recklessness. Kurt tore the whole suspension off the car, so it won’t turn, it won’t do anything.”
“Thanks Kurt, appreciate it buddy,” he added sarcastically.
Kenseth easily took the lead on lap 16. Two laps later Busch began to fade and was fourth by lap 20, Johnson was second but a lap later got by Kenseth for the lead; Jeff Gordon was second, Joey Logano was third. Like Busch, Kenseth began to fade back. By lap 35 Johnson had caught the back of the field.
The competition caution came out on lap 40; Johnson led, Logano was second, Gordon third. Pit road was a busy place as everyone came in for stops. Kurt Busch and Keselowski got together on pit road with Keselowski getting the worst of it with extensive damage to the front of his Ford; he would .be forced to the garage for repairs and would return 31 laps down. Johnson led off pit road, Logano second, Gordon third.
Johnson led to the green with Gordon and Kenseth fighting for third. Two laps latter Kenseth fell to third. On lap 56 Gordon had faded to sixth, while Kenseth had raced his way to the front and took the lead from Johnson. Not long after Kyle Busch reassumed the lead on lap 59 as Logano fell into second. Logano would have none of it and took the lead on lap 65. Busch quickly feel back to sixth reporting a loose condition. By lap 82 Busch had fallen back to 23rd as up front Johnson retook the lead from Logano.
Keselowski and Kurt Busch had found each other on the track and began bumping and banging. The third caution came out on lap 103 as Rickey Stenhouse Jr. went into the wall; he was able to continue but would later retire with gear issues.
Kenseth won the race of pit road followed by Johnson and Logano. The restart came on lap 109. Logano fell into second and three laps later took over the lead. two laps later the fourth caution came out for a multi-car crash that started with a battle for 32nd, involving Travis Kvapil, David Gilliland and Michel Annett.
Logano led to the green on lap 120 with Kenseth on the outside and Johnson behind in third. Logano led until lap 133 when Johnson was able to get back by for the lead. Greg Biffle who had never finished inside the top 10 at Martinsville took over second on lap 151 followed by the lead on lap 155. Marcos Ambrose took over second on lap 167. The fifth caution came out on lap 171 when Casey Mears went for a solo spin in turn 2.
Ambrose led off pit road, Biffle was second, Johnson third, Logano fourth. The restart came on lap 178, Logano slid into second, Biffle was in third fighting Kenseth. A lap later Kenseth took control of the spot as Biffle was caught on the outside and began to fall back. On lap 192 Kenseth took over second from Logano bringing Johnson with him, a lap later Kenseth went by Ambrose for the lead. Ambrose, Logano and Johnson got together behind them for second through fourth. Johnson began showing tire smoke shortly after.
The sixth caution came out on lap 200 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. got into Jamie McMurray sending McMurray spinning and eventually hard into the outside wall exiting turn 2. The leaders came in for pit stops; Kenseth led out of the pits, Logano was second, Johnson third, Ambrose fourth.
The restart came on lap 208 led by Kenseth, Johnson took over second from Logano; four laps later Johnson and Logano had caught Kenseth and took over the top two spots. Kenseth was trapped on the outside and began losing spots. The seventh caution came out on lap 219 when Alex Bowman in 25th spun entering turn 3. Most of the leaders pitted with the exception of Earnhardt, AJ Allmendinger and Kurt Busch who stayed out. Logano exited the pits ahead of Ambrose and Johnson.
The restart came on lap 225 with Earnhardt and Allmendinger in front. Johnson with four fresh tires was fighting to the front. The eighth caution came for debris on lap 23 slowing his progress. The top 10 stayed out. Earnhardt was able to keep the lead on the restart with Kurt Busch in second. Johnson began to march back towards the front again. Busch took the lead from Earnhardt on lap 243 bringing Johnson to second with him, two laps later Johnson was back at the front.
The ninth caution was brought out for a spin by Ryan Truex in turn 4 on lap 249. All the leaders came in for stops. Kenseth and Tony Stewart, both outside the top 10, however stayed out to take over one and two. Johnson won off pit road with Earnhardt second. On lap 260 Earnhardt took the lead from Kenseth; Johnson shot by on the inside for second, on lap 264 he shot by Earnhardt for the lead. With older tires both Kenseth and Stewart began to fall and were soon in 25th and 26. Clint Bowyer took the lead on lap 285 after running inside the top 10 most of the day. Johnson would have none of it and four laps later retook the lead.
On lap 303 leader Johnson passed Kenseth putting him a lap down. The 10th caution came out on lap 316 when Joe Nemechek spun into the turn 3 wall. The lead lap cars came in to pit; Johnson lead, Bowyer was second Carl Edwards, third Earnhardt fourth. The restart came on lap 322. Earnhardt took over second three laps late, Edwards held onto the third while Bowyer fell into fourth. Bowyer was able to rally back and by lap 335 was in second, a few laps later he had caught Johnson and was threatening for the lead. The eleventh caution came out on lap 341 when Kyle Larson went for a solo spin.
The leaders came in for stops with Johnson leading off pit road, Bowyer second, Edwards third, Brian Vickers fourth. The restart came on lap 348, but the 12th caution of the day came out for debris before two laps were completed. Johnson held onto the lead, Edwards was second. Having just pitted, the leaders all stayed out. The restart came out on lap 358 with Johnson leading on the inside and Edwards on the outside. Edwards challenged for half a lap before Johnson was able to pull ahead. By lap 368, Johnson had a lead of nearly a second, Logano right behind in third, with Kurt Busch just behind. On lap 370, Busch put a bumper on Logano pushed him up and took over third.
Heavy traffic ahead slowed Johnson by lap 385 and Johnson saw his lead shrink over Edwards to just under a half a second. Caution 13 came out on lap 410 when Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. got together in turn 2; Truex spun and Keselowski continued. The leaders came in for stops. Johnson led off pit road, Edwards was second despite making contact with Kenseth and sending Kenseth spinning right into his pit box.
Johnson led on the restart on lap 414, Edwards quickly fell into second on the bottom Bowyer was in third. Soon though Kurt Busch was battling Bowyer for third and soon was able to muscle his was past. Bowyer moved back into second on lap 442, and was looking for the lead. Kurt Busch and Logano was third and fourth, Edwards had fallen to fifth. On lap 449 Johnson slipped going exiting turn 2 and Bowyer went to the lead.
Caution 14 came out on lap 459 when Edwards who had been fighting or the lead only a few laps before, went for a solo spin. All the leaders came in for fresh tires. Johnson led first, Logano was second. Kurt Busch third, Aric Almirola fourth. Bowyer had issues with the left rear tire and came off pit road 10th.
The green came out with 35 laps to go; Johnson battled Logano for the lead for a lap before falling back to third behind Kurt Busch. Busch soon caught Johnson and with 28 to go went by Johnson for the lead. Johnson never lost touch and 10 laps later Johnson went back to the lead.
Like Johnson though, Busch never lost contact. Busch was on the inside and retook the lead with 10 to go. Busch began to stretch his lead out to almost a half a second; Johnson’s only hope became lapped traffic. It wasn’t enough however and Busch was able to hold on for to become the sixth different winner in the six race NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
"I'd been loose in the final third of the race and was hanging on there,” Johnson said. “When (Kurt Busch) got back by me, I was hopefully that he'd wear his stuff out and I could get back by him. He did but I couldn't hold him off. I started to get looser and looser. That's all I had. I ran the rear tires off the car. I flipped every switch and knob I could get front brake and turn fans off to bring my balance back but it was a little too loose to get the win. I hate it. We had a very fast race car”
Behind second place Johnson Earnhardt Jr. was third, Logano fourth and Ambrose fifth. Kenseth was sixth, Harvick seventh, Almirola eighth, Bowyer recovered to ninth and Paul Menard rounded out the top ten.
“That was the hardest 30 laps I ever drove not to slip a tire in my life,” Busch said. “I didn't want to let last week where I let the win slip away, let it slip away this week. So I gave it all I had, and it felt good. It felt really good to give it my all and deliver and to win knowing that after this two-year run it can still be done.”
There were a record 33 lead changes Sunday and 14 cautions.
Earnhardt Jr. retakes the points lead with Kenseth second, Edwards, third, Jeff Gordon fourth and Johnson fifth as the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for its next event, next Sunday.