No apologies from Busch
Quite the opposite, actually.
A day after blaming his Joe Gibbs Racing team for costing him a victory in the Nationwide Series race, Busch leaned on his crew to help him to a dominating win in the Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday. There were no apologies for his frustration on Saturday, when he punished his crew for a pit road penalty by abandoning his car in Turn 3 instead of driving it back to the team transporter.
“We don’t talk about that. If they don’t know (to get over it), they don’t need to be working for me,” Busch said. “These guys are great. They appreciate what I do behind the wheel. I appreciate what they do on pit road. That’s a given in any team.”
But he still had to nudge them just a bit to make sure his crew knew the importance of Sunday’s final pit stop. In the Nationwide race, they fumbled a tire on the final stop to take Busch out of contention.
Many of the same crew members work on his Cup team, and given a second chance, they got him out front ahead of teammate Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson on the final pit stop—critical track position that helped him hang on for the win.
“I told the ladies to ‘Man up, get the job done on the last stop,’ which they did,” Busch said. “I’m proud of them for doing that. When the time mattered most, they got the job done.”
Busch led 378 of 503 laps in a rewarding win for a driver who has had so many slip away on the .533-mile bullring. Two of his near misses were last season, when he lost his power steering while leading last spring and was bumped from the front in August by Carl Edwards after leading 415 laps.
“We should have won here last fall, we should have won here yesterday,” Busch said. “This place probably owes me a few. But you can never ask a race track to pay you back. You just have to just keep working on it.”
Busch has now won a race in at least one of NASCAR’s top three series every weekend this season. It started with a victory in the non-points qualifying race at Daytona and followed with wins in the Truck and Nationwide Series at California, the Cup race at Las Vegas, and the Nationwide race at Atlanta.
Track position was critical as the race wound down, and Hamlin knew his best chance at catching his teammate was on pit road. Although his crew moved him from third to second on the final stop, it wasn’t enough and he had to settle for a second-place finish.
“He just has a way of taking off really, really good on the short run,” Hamlin said. “I knew unless we got out on pit road ahead of him on that last pit stop, it was going to be tough.”
Hamlin has had his own heartbreak at Bristol—he led 98 laps last spring and was headed to the win when a fuel pickup problem cost him the victory. In August he finished third, again behind Busch.
Defending three-time series champion Jimmie Johnson was third in a Chevrolet to tie his career-best Bristol finish, back in 2004. Johnson had devoted a good deal of time to figuring out why he’s struggled at Bristol, and the homework with crew chief Chad Knaus clearly paid off.
“What a day for us. I wish we had 500 more laps to go,” he said. “I have to thank Chad and the engineering staff for sitting me down a couple weeks ago to look at this race track and what I need here. I made my wish list and they gave me what I needed.”
Jeff Gordon, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, was fourth.
Kasey Kahne was fifth in a Dodge and followed by polesitter Mark Martin, Ryan Newman, defending race winner Jeff Burton and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Marcos Ambrose, in the spotlight after his gas man chased a tire across pit road two weeks ago at Atlanta, finished 10th.
A Busch brother has won the past three races. Kyle Busch won at Las Vegas earlier this month, and Kurt followed it with a win at Atlanta. Kurt Busch, a five-time Bristol winner, finished 11th on Sunday.