By Jim Utter
MARTINSVILLE, Va.: Kurt Busch got beat on by one driver and passed another to escape with a victory in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Busch, who received several shots from an angry Brad Keselowski after an early-race incident between the drivers, drove his battered car around Jimmie Johnson to take the lead for the final time with 11 of 500 laps remaining.
The victory is the first for Busch since the 2011 Sprint Cup Series season and ends an 83-race winless drought.
The win also all-but clinches Busch, in his first season with Stewart-Haas Racing, a spot in this season’s championship Chase thanks to NASCAR’s new title format.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished third, Joey Logano was fourth and Marcos Ambrose was fifth.
Pole-winner Kyle Busch took early control of the race, leading the first 16 laps.
Johnson took his first lead on Lap 21 and led 58 of the next 84 laps.
NASCAR issued a competition caution on Lap 42 after all of the rubber was washed off the track because of heavy rain on Saturday. During the caution, Keselowski was hit by Kurt Busch on pit road in an incident that also collected Kasey Kahne. There was severe damage to Keselowski’s car, which required a trip to the garage for repairs.
On the restart on Lap 48, Johnson led the way followed by Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth.
After repairs, Keselowski returned to the track and slammed into Kurt Busch’s car several times in retaliation for the pit road incident.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the wall on Lap 103 to bring out the third caution of the race. On the restart on Lap 110, Kenseth led the way.
A three-car wreck brought out a caution on Lap 115. On the restart on Lap 120, Logano led the way followed by Kenseth and Johnson.
Earnhardt made contact with Jamie McMurray and Murray hit the wall hard, doing severe damage to his No. 1 Chevrolet. Kenseth led the way on the restart on Lap 208.
Alex Bowman spun in Turn 4 to bring out the seventh caution of the race on Lap 220. During a round of pit stops, Tony Stewart and Joe Nemechek were both penalized by NASCAR for speeding on pit road. Earnhardt elected not to pit and took over the race lead on the restart on Lap 226.
Over the course of the next eight laps, Earnhardt was passed for the lead by Kurt Busch and then Johnson retook the lead from Busch.
A spin by Ryan Truex brought out a caution on Lap 250. During a round of pit stops, Martin Truex Jr. was penalized by NASCAR for speeding on pit road. Kenseth took over the lead on the restart on Lap 258.
Earnhardt retook the lead on Lap 261 and over the next 25 laps the lead changed hands three times before Johnson emerged as the leader on Lap 288.
Nemechek wrecked on Lap 316 to bring out the 10th caution of the race. Johnson led the way on the restart on Lap 323.
Kyle Larson spun on Lap 341 to bring out a caution. On the restart on Lap 347, Johnson continued to lead the way followed by Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards.
With 100 laps remaining, Johnson held a comfortable lead followed by Edwards and Kurt Busch.
With 50 laps remaining, Bowyer made his way around Johnson to take the top spot. Kurt Busch was third, followed by Logano and Edwards.
Edwards spun while running fifth on Lap 458 to bring out the 14th caution of the race.
All of the lead-lap cars elected to pit for fuel and tires and Johnson reclaimed the on the restart on Lap 466, followed by Logano and Kurt Busch.
Busch made his way around Johnson and into the lead on Lap 473.
Johnson returned the favor on Lap 482 to reclaim the top spot.