Joe Jennings, NASCAR correspondent
Taking advantage of rapid pit work on his final stop, Kyle Busch forged into the lead with nine laps remaining in the Capital City 400 Presented by Virginia is For Lovers and went on to win his fourth consecutive spring race at the Richmond International Raceway. The winner drove the M&M’s Brown Toyota, chalking up his 24th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career victory and the first in 2012.
In winning four in a row, Busch breaks a tie with Richard Petty, who accumulated his wins between 1971 and 1973.
All-day rain threatened the running of the race but two hours before the start, the rain stopped and the track was dried. The night was cool – 49 degrees when the race started – but the fans bundled up and were warmed by the on-track action.
“This was a gift, and I don’t know where it came from,” the youngest Busch said. “I had a great pit stop, which gave me the lead and that was the difference. It is really cool to win. I didn’t have the best car, but it means so much to do so well here. This has been an awesome weekend all around.
Once I got out front, I knew I had 10 laps left and I could abuse the heck out of that thing, not having to save the tires.
“During much of the race, we were just trying to keep ourselves in position, and we did what we needed to do to stay in the top-five. My crew kept giving me phenomenal stops, so I was gaining ground every time. That last caution period put me into position as the guys gave me great service on pit road. It gave me a huge advantage and allowed me to control the restart.
“Once I got out front, I knew I had 10 laps left and I could abuse the heck out of that thing, not having to save the tires. It goes to show what kind of speed there is in that Camry.”
According to Busch, he could not have caught Tony Stewart without the late-race slowdown. “At that point, I was trying to pressure him but my car started getting tight. Once I couldn’t’ see him anymore, I was just trying to make it to the end.”
Said crew chief Dave Rogers, “My hat is off to Kyle. The key to the game today was that Kyle never got frustrated. He gave us great feedback and direction, and he drove a smart race.”
Car owner Joe Gibbs added, “I wasn’t worried about the slow start for us, as I have a lot of confidence in our team. This was a total team effort.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. grabbed second place in the closing laps to finish 1.095 seconds behind the victor. “I am happy with second place as we had about a fifth-place car,” he said. “I was lucky on that last restart to gain a couple of extra spots. We were terrible here last year, and I really like running here, so I was curious as to why we weren’t performing as well. So it feels good to run all right here (again).”
NASCAR’s most popular driver said he had talked his crew into installing a softer brake pedal, and that turned out to work against him. “You are on the brake pedal so far down in the corner here and it just cooked the fronts. And I’d get a real soft pedal pretty quick,” he added.
Tony Stewart led 118 of the 400 laps and seemed en route to victory until falling back to third in the late going.
“That was the best car I’ve had here in a long time,” Stewart said. “The car was good right off the bat, and my crew just kept making the car better and better, so we were able to stay up there with that trio of cars the last 150 laps or so. We were where we needed to be at the end of the day and with this being my favorite track, so it feels good to run well here.”
Stewart was also involved in a controversial officials’ call during a restart on the 318th lap, a controversy he was unaware of.
At the time, there seemed to be confusion whether Stewart or Carl Edwards held the lead. Edwards lined up on the outside with Stewart on the inside. When the green flag dropped, Edwards took off while Stewart spun his tires. According to the officials, Edwards had jumped the restart and he was assessed with a drive-through penalty, dropping him to the 15th spot.
“I was the first one to line-up, so I don’t know how much clearer it could have been,” Stewart said. “If that was the case (Edwards as leader), they should have put the caution out and given him the opportunity to choose the lane that he wanted. It’s a miscommunication between upstairs (officials) and the drivers.”
Bob Osborne, crew chief for Edwards, expressed his displeasure with the call but without success.
Edwards ended up in 10th place and was highly frustrated with the outcome.
“I was at a disadvantage, so I thought I was getting the best restart I could,” Edwards said. “That said, I thought I was the leader.” He stated he doesn’t understand what happened and plans to seek an explanation from the officials.
Denny Hamlin took fourth place with Kasey Kahne fifth.
Sixth through 10th were Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer Jr., Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski and Edwards.
Sprint Cup point leader Greg Biffle finished 18th.
In the point standings, Biffle leads by five over Earnhardt and by nine over Hamlin. Matt Kenseth is in fourth (-10) ahead of Martin Truex Jr. (-22), Johnson (-24), Kevin Harvick (-25), Stewart (-31), Edwards (-51) and Ryan Newman (-60).
Five caution flags slowed the race for 31 laps. The last slowdown, reportedly for a water bottle on the track, took place on the 388th lap.
The next track on the schedule is at the Talladega Superspeedway next weekend.