Kurt Busch dominates NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sears Point

Kurt Busch claimed his first victory of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season with a categorical showing at Sears Point

Kurt Busch dominates NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Sears Point

The Penske racer had shown throughout practice that he had the car to beat, losing pole position in qualifying only after making two costly mistakes on his flying lap.

On Sunday though, from 11th on the grid, not only he did confirm his speed but his team also perfectly executed a two-stop strategy that gave him a clean track ahead to make the most of his pace, while other top contenders tried to charge back after a additional stops for fuel and tyres.

Busch claimed the lead for the first time on lap 13 by overtaking early race leader Denny Hamlin, who had taken over at the front from the polesitter, his Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Joey Logano.

Busch stretched his first stint as long as lap 31 while many had pitted early in anticipation of two further stops at least, and although Busch's pace on old rubber was not comparable to those who bolted four new Goodyears before lap 20, he was able to stay on target with the planned strategy.

A caution on lap 33, caused by an out-of-fuel Casey Mears, allowed Busch to move up in the order again as most of the leaders pitted for a second time. Hamlin was the only one to stay out but he pitted a few laps later when another caution waved as the laps behind the pace car allowed Busch to continue to stretch his fuel mileage enough to where a two-stopper came within range.

When the fifth and final caution came out with 22 laps to go after Red Bull's Brian Vickers punted Stewart Haas' Tony Stewart against the wall at the final hairpin in retaliation for previous contact, a number of cars decided to pit for fuel and tyres despite many having already stopped a few laps earlier under green.

Busch pitted for the last time with 38 laps remaining, so during the final caution he stayed out and regained the lead for good, being free to dictate the pace while trying to conserve his tyres and even some fuel for an eventual green-white-chequered finished.

Those on fresher rubber struggled to make enough progress as a lack of further cautions hampered their cause, allowing the 2004 Cup champion to be in full control and take the second win of the season for his outfit, his first ever on a road course at Cup level.

"It was an unbelievable set-up," said Busch. "Once we got into the groove with this car, it seemed to get better after lap five or six. Our cars have never done that before... I'm so proud of these guys for really stepping up after what we've been through. Man, we've been on a high these last few weeks.

"We just had to conserve our rear tyres. That was the main thought. Once we had enough fuel to make it, I started to pick up my pace. I didn't want guys to think they had a shot at us and I was able to stretch it out."

Five-time Sears Point winner Jeff Gordon made the most progress in the closing stages, even passing points leader Carl Edwards for second on the final lap of the race. He was also among those on a four-stop strategy but chose to stay out on the final caution, admitting he was surprised at being able to finish strongly after battling with his car's balance early on.

"I thought really, even there at the end, that we were probably going to get beat up by some of the guys on newer tyres," said Gordon. "But the car just really stayed good there and we were able to even beat a lot of the guys in front of us and run them down. So that was a lot of fun. I was just so thankful the car finally came together there at the end."

Behind Edwards, who ran a three-stop strategy, Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer and Australian Marcos Ambrose - who also struggled early on with handling - rounded out the top five. Logano did not make much of his pole position spot at first but still through strategy and pace was able to charge to a sixth-place finish ahead of last year's race winner Jimmie Johnson.

Earnhardt Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya looked strong in the final stint after taking tyres and fuel under the last caution and seemed to be able to make the most of fresher rubber, quickly picking off rivals. However he was delayed by contact with Kasey Kahne at Turn 2 and then Penske's Brad Keselowski spun him out while fighting for position at Turn 3 with six laps remaining.

Kurt Busch's win has vaulted him up three places in the standings to fourth, while Hendrick Motorsports' Dale Earnhardt Jr dropped the same amount of positions after retiring with engine issues following damage from a multi-car incident.

Results - 110 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge 2h54m10.000s 2. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 2.685s 3. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 3.851s 4. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 10.188s 5. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 11.462s 6. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 11.901s 7. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 12.744s 8. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 14.826s 9. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 19.994s 10. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 20.748s 11. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 21.751s 12. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 24.449s 13. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 24.863s 14. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 30.580s 15. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 32.003s 16. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 32.511s 17. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 33.286s 18. Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge + 34.662s 19. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 35.042s 20. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota + 35.969s 21. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 37.962s 22. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 40.640s 23. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 42.686s 24. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 46.806s 25. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 47.082s 26. Andy Pilgrim Whitney Chevrolet + 47.887s 27. Chris Cook Front Row Ford + 48.192s 28. Boris Said Phoenix Chevrolet + 49.637s 29. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 51.915s 30. Michael McDowell HP Toyota + 52.518s 31. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 54.194s 32. Terry Labonte FAS Lane Ford + 55.053s 33. Brian Simo Whitney Chevrolet + 1 lap 34. Casey Mears Germain Toyota + 2 laps 35. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet + 6 laps 36. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 7 laps 37. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 11 laps 38. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 19 laps Retirements: Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet 88 laps Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 66 laps Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet 45 laps Mike Skinner Germain Toyota 10 laps PJ Jones Gordon Dodge 5 laps 
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