By Jenna Fryer ?& Hank Kurz Jr.
RICHMOND, Va.: Kyle Busch capped a perfect weekend Saturday night by winning the spring race at Richmond for the fourth consecutive year.
The victory snaps a 22-race winless streak for Busch, and came a day after he went to Victory Lane for the first time as a Nationwide Series team owner. Kurt Busch drove his younger brother’s car to its first victory Friday night.
As he celebrated his first Sprint Cup Series win as a driver, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards both believed the win was taken from them.
Stewart was upset because a caution for debris — he claimed it was for a bottle of soda or water that wasn’t an on-track hindrance — erased his lead with 13 laps remaining. He led the leaders down pit road for a final stop, and Busch beat him back onto the track.
Busch also easily pulled away from Stewart on the restart with nine laps to go, and Stewart was also passed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. to fade to third.
“When the caution is for a plastic bottle on the backstretch, it’s hard to feel good losing that one,” Stewart said. “And we gave it away on pit road. So, we did everything we could to throw it away, got taken away from us.”
Edwards thought the same thing after NASCAR penalized him for jumping the restart with 81 laps remaining.
It capped a confusing sequence in what had been a calm, quiet race through the first 400 laps. But a caution after Jeff Burton hit the wall scrambled everything, and only 15 cars were shown on the lead lap when racing resumed.
Edwards lined up next to Stewart for the restart, and his spotter had told the driver that he was the leader. But NASCAR said Stewart was the leader, and when Edwards sailed past him on the restart, NASCAR threw the black flag.
Edwards questioned the call to crew chief Bob Osborne, and neither seemed to understand why Edwards was penalized. Told by Osborne it was for both passing the leader before the restart, and jumping the restart, Edwards said it was impossible to do both at the same time.
NASCAR eventually clarified that Stewart was the leader, but Edwards left too early.
Edwards, who ultimately finished 10th, watched a replay of the start before going to talk to NASCAR. He insisted his spotter had been told by NASCAR he was restarting the race as the leader.
“I thought NASCAR made a mistake, they lined us up wrong, and I was at a disadvantage being on the outside,” Edwards said. “So I thought, ‘I’m getting the best start I can get right now. I got the best start I could get, looks like Tony waited or spun his tires, so they black-flagged me.
“I still don’t understand why they black-flagged me.”
Times have changed
Matt Kenseth has been racing in NASCAR’s top series since 1998, and the way things are now with multicar teams dominating the sport, it makes those days seem hardly recognizable.
“When I started, it was a five-car team [at Roush Fenway Racing] and Mark [Martin] and Jeff [Burton] were over here,” Kenseth said. “It was really different and nobody talked to each other or shared information. They had their two little groups and it was hard.”
Now, sharing notes among teammates is one of the reasons for the multicar setups.
“It is different today because the cars are almost identical and we share every single thing that goes on from the second they start getting built until the race starts and through the race and everything,” said Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 winner and 2003 series champion.
“I think if you look at the last couple years, all our cars run fairly close on the race track. Usually, typically, you don’t have a guy win and another guy run 20th and really miss it. It seems like we are all closer to each other than I think you were in years past.
And when that’s not the case, the driver lagging behind works harder to catch up.
“Certainly I remember 2008 when Carl [Edwards] won those nine races and we were struggling a little bit,” said Kenseth, who won twice that year. “That is always hard on a guy to wonder why you are getting beat by your teammate when you are supposed to have the same stuff. That drives you to try to do better or try to be the best in your group. You always want to try that.”
Cars vs. drivers
Jeff Gordon thinks technology has helped to minimize the impact of driving ability, especially on 1.5-mile tracks like Kansas and Texas.
“The cars have become so important,” the four-time series champion and 85-time race winner said. “The amount of work that the team puts into that car, and the side force and the downforce, that’s where the speed is coming. We’ve got so many good drivers out here now and such good teams and equipment.”