Kyle Busch celebrated his 24th birthday in style by sweeping the weekend at Richmond, winning his third Sprint Cup race of the year a day after taking victory in the Nationwide event.
Busch emerged as a strong contender for victory after he pitted for the last time during the 11th of an event-record 15 caution periods. Making the most of fresh rubber, and without having to worry about saving fuel unlike most of those ahead of him, he passed rivals one by one until he caught up with leader Jeff Gordon.
Following the penultimate restart, he got by the Hendrick driver and was able to build a big enough lead to coast to his 15th Sprint Cup win, becoming only the second driver in NASCAR history to win a race on his birthday.
"It was an awesome win for us," said Busch. "We've struggled for four weeks and we hadn't finished the way we wanted to but we made it happen here tonight.
"We needed to get out and get a long run, and those guys had to chase us back and they couldn't catch us. It really worked out. [Crew chief] Steve [Addington] made a great race call there on when to pit and take four [new] tyres and we were able to stay out front from then on."
Tony Stewart finished second and was another to take four new tyres during a late caution. At one point he seemed to be in hot pursuit of Busch, but a much-expected caution didn't arrive and he was unable to get close to his former team-mate.
"I'm not sure we had a second-place car but we got there at the end," said Stewart after scoring his fourth top five result in the last five races. "We had about 20 or 30 laps more left on our tyres than everybody else and that gave us an advantage."
Jeff Burton finished third on a similar strategy to Stewart, recovering well from an early incident with Dale Earnhardt Jr when he hit the wall on lap 212. Ryan Newman finished fourth, rounding out the best race of the year thus far for Stewart-Haas Racing, followed by veteran Mark Martin.
Sam Hornish Jr claimed his best career finish with a solid sixth place, gaining many spots in the closing stages of the race while making the most of his tyre strategy.
Jamie McMurray was seventh as the best of those who chose to stay on track and not pitting during the 11th caution, followed by Gordon, who ran more laps than anyone with his last set of tyres but eventually paid the price.
Casey Mears was ninth in his first race working with Todd Berrier as his crew chief, scoring his best result of the season and recovering from a slow start to his night. Meanwhile, Juan Pablo Montoya finished behind getting his third top 10 result of the season.
Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin seemed to have the best cars in the first part of the race, but they only managed to finish 12th and 14th respectively.
Busch was among the big movers in the early going, but he struggled in the last part of the race after some adjustments made during his last stop. He had looked the main threat to Hamlin, who led 148 laps but struggled for grip at the end after taking only two new tyres on his last pitstop.
He was trying to recover from a delayed stop earlier that had dropped him from the lead down to eighth place.
Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, who had won three out of the previous four races at Richmond, had a night to forget. He struggled with brake problems in the first half of the race, then had to serve three different penalties after causing the sixth caution of the day due to a spin, and finally ended up involved in a wreck with 75 laps remaining.
He was the biggest loser of the day, sliding down to sixth from third in the points, while his team-mate Jeff Gordon reclaimed the lead in the standings from Kurt Busch. Tony Stewart moved up to third and Kyle Busch is now fifth in the championship.
Pos Driver Car Laps 1. Kyle Busch Toyota 400 2. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 400 3. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 400 4. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 400 5. Mark Martin Chevrolet 400 6. Sam Hornish Jr Dodge 400 7. Jamie McMurray Ford 400 8. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 400 9. Casey Mears Chevrolet 400 10. Juan Montoya Chevrolet 400 11. Marcos Ambrose Toyota 400 12. Kurt Busch Dodge 400 13. Matt Kenseth Ford 400 14. Denny Hamlin Toyota 400 15. Brian Vickers Toyota 400 16. Robby Gordon Toyota 400 17. Greg Biffle Ford 400 18. Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 400 19. Joey Logano Toyota 400 20. Reed Sorenson Dodge 400 21. A.J. Allmendinger Dodge 400 22. Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 400 23. David Ragan Ford 400 24. Michael Waltrip Toyota 400 25. Elliott Sadler Dodge 400 26. Carl Edwards Ford 400 27. Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 399 28. David Reutimann Toyota 399 29. Kasey Kahne Dodge 399 30. Paul Menard Ford 398 31. Bobby Labonte Ford 398 32. John Andretti Chevrolet 397 33. Scott Speed Toyota 396 34. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 394 35. Jeremy Mayfield Toyota 371 36. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 368 37. Mike Bliss Dodge 368 38. David Stremme Dodge 324 39. David Gilliland Chevrolet 92 40. Joe Nemechek Toyota 90 41. Tony Raines Chevrolet 74 42. Scott Riggs Toyota 54 43. Dave Blaney Toyota 8