Martinsville NASCAR: Kurt Busch takes first win since 2011
|Sunday, March 30th 2014, 21:12 GMT|
Kurt Busch recovered from an early spat with Brad Keselowski to take his first NASCAR Sprint Cup win in two and a half years at Martinsville.
Busch had written off his chances after tangling with Keselowski in pitlane in the opening stages.
A furious Keselowski rejoined 30 laps down and made repeated retaliatory contact with Busch when they encountered each other again.
As he vented over the radio about plans to confront Keselowski post-race, Busch looked far from a likely winner.
But the Stewart-Haas driver was able to regain his compose and then started moving steadily forwards in a race that featured a track record 33 lead changes, with the effects of Saturday's rain and Sunday's very cold temperatures leaving drivers struggling with set-ups and high tyre wear.
Jimmie Johnson repeatedly fought into the lead and took control of the second half of the event, heading 296 of the 500 laps.
Busch emerged as his main threat after the final restart. They twice swapped positions in an extremely intense, but clean, deciding battle, with Busch managing to take the chequered flag two tenths of a second ahead of the reigning champion's Hendrick Chevrolet.
The result was Busch's first Cup victory since Dover in late-2011. Shortly afterwards he lost his Penske seat after abusing a journalist, and spent the next two seasons with the underdog Phoenix and Furniture Row teams before earning another top-line chance with Stewart-Haas this year.
Dale Earnhardt Jr and Joey Logano could not quite join Busch and Johnson's lead battle in the end as they finished third and fourth.
Marcos Ambrose stirred the Richard Petty Motorsports squad in the week of team matriarch Lynda Petty's death by leading for a spell and finishing fifth, with team-mate Aric Almirola eighth behind Matt Kenseth and Kevin Harvick.
Clint Bowyer led into the final pitstops but a slow tyre change dropped him to ninth at the flag. Paul Menard completed the top 10.
A host of drivers seemed to have shots at victory at various junctures only for their cars' handling to fade as the track conditions changed.
Poleman Kyle Busch was among them, ending up only 14th, while Carl Edwards progressed up the order to become one of Johnson's main rivals in the closing stages before spinning and finishing 13th.
Results - 500 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Kurt Busch Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 3h38m38.000s 2. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet +0.263s 3. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet +1.424s 4. Joey Logano Penske Ford +1.841s 5. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford +2.131s 6. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Toyota +2.553s 7. Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +3.087s 8. Aric Almirola Petty Ford +3.475s 9. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota +4.563s 10. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet +5.339s 11. AJ Allmendinger JTG Daugherty Chevrolet +6.119s 12. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet +6.536s 13. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford +7.057s 14. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota +7.589s 15. Austin Dillon Childress Chevrolet +9.333s 16. Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota +10.213s 17. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +11.959s 18. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford +12.222s 19. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota +12.411s 20. Ryan Newman Childress Chevrolet +13.779s 21. Martin Truex Jr Furniture Row Chevrolet +14.073s 22. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet +15.732s 23. Justin Allgaier Hscott Chevrolet +16.713s 24. Casey Mears Germain Chevrolet +18.019s 25. Landon Cassill Hillman Chevrolet +19.221s 26. David Gilliland Front Row Ford +1 lap 27. Kyle Larson Ganassi Chevrolet +2 laps 28. David Ragan Front Row Ford +3 laps 29. Cole Whitt Swan Toyota +3 laps 30. Ryan Truex BK Toyota +4 laps 31. Michael Annett Baldwin Chevrolet +5 laps 32. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet +6 laps 33. Travis Kvapil FAS Lane Ford +7 laps 34. Reed Sorenson Baldwin Chevrolet +8 laps 35. Josh Wise Parsons Ford +8 laps 36. Alex Bowman BK Toyota +12 laps 37. Michael McDowell Leavine Ford +26 laps* 38. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford +31 laps 39. David Stremme Circle Sport Chevrolet +60 laps 40. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford +91 laps 41. Parker Kligerman Swan Toyota +92 laps 42. Jamie McMurray Ganassi Chevrolet +104 laps * Not running at finish Retirements: Joe Nemechek Robinson Toyota 310 laps